The 2019 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year missed virtually all of the 2020 campaign after suffering a torn ACL in the Week 2 win over the New York Jets. Although San Francisco’s defense performed admirably without its best player, the unit lacked a true finisher.
Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner broke down the 49ers’ defense and running game in his latest episode of QB Confidential. When it comes to the Niners’ defense, Warner credits Bosa for being a beast and says San Francisco’s defensive scheme is quite simple (h/t 49ers Web Zone):
“With the 49er D, it starts up front: PRESSURE, PRESSURE, PRESSURE. They believe in their four guys up front, so they don’t have to get too complicated on the backend. Keep everything in front of you…we’ve got good players, good linebackers. Fred Warner can cover sideline to sideline. So put the pressure on the offense to make play-after-play, and to block us up-front. We will change it up every once in a while; give you that shell, drop into a base cover-3. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated, just dropping an extra guy down low to take away some of those quicker throws. The changeup comes on 3rd Down. We are going to help those guys up front, we are going to mug, give pressure from different looks, come off the slot and that’s where they hope to stop you. Bend, bend, bend; we get you in 3rd Down and now we believe we are better than you scheme-wise and player-wise and we are going to force you into making mistakes. That is going to be the key this next season. Can offenses block the front four starting with Nick Bosa? That’s number one. Can you stay out of 3rd Down situations, can you deal with their scheme and can you as a quarterback make a positive play in those situations? All that will determine how teams do against this 49er defense. Or more importantly, how far can this 49ers team can go, because the defense led this team a couple of years ago. They’ve got the pieces to be able to do that again as long as they can create that pressure up front.”
The 49ers will have a new defensive coordinator in 2021. Former linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans takes over for Robert Saleh, who is now the New York Jets head coach. Ryans said there would be some changes to the scheme next season but that the philosophy remains the same.
“I want to be known as an attacking defensive line,” Ryans said. “Our D-Line is going to attack. Our linebackers and secondary [are] going to play with base fundamentals. We’re going to play off our D-Line. We’re going to allow our D-Line to get off the ball and attack, we’re going to clean up things behind them, but we will be a more aggressive, attacking defense.”
Warner also went over the Niners’ run game and why a strong rushing attack is paramount to the team’s success. San Francisco has a solid stable of running backs going into the 2021 campaign. Raheem Mostert will likely be the starter while Jeff Wilson Jr. recovers from a knee injury that will keep him on the PUP list early next season.
The 49ers added veteran Wayne Gallman Jr. in free agency and drafted Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell. With Mostert, Wilson and Tevin Coleman missing 20 games combined last year, San Francisco ranked 15th in total yards.
Warner looked back at what made the Niners so successful in 2019 and points out where he thinks the offense struggles.
“You’ll notice that I don’t show a lot of the drop back pass game. They’re not particularly great in the drop back pass game because that’s not what they major in. They major in what we see in this tape… they want to run the football with all kinds of different formations and all kinds of different personnel groups. They want to give everybody the football, not just the running backs…they’ll get it to their tight ends, they’ll get it to their receivers…even in the run game or the short passing game, that’s where they want to live. They want to make it easy on their quarterback by designing easy play actions off of their run game…that’s where they excel. When they get away from that, that’s when they start to struggle. When they have to base everything off of a drop back game, that’s where Jimmy G has struggled…that’s where this whole offense has struggled. So that’s what you have to pay attention to this upcoming year. When they got to the Super Bowl a couple years ago, it was all about running the football and play action. When they had to get away from that late in the game against Kansas City, they weren’t nearly as successful. So that’s what I got my eye on this next year…can they run the football like did two years ago. If they can, they’re bound to have success offensively, because they will have the ability to establish great play action off of it. Can people stop the run game for the 49ers, force them to become a drop back game team? Then, whether it’s Jimmy G or Trey Lance, can those guys thrive and carry that team in a drop back game…that’s what I want to see.”
The 49ers ranked second behind the Baltimore Ravens in total rushing yards for the 2019 season and averaged 144 yards on the ground per game. Head coach Kyle Shanahan leaned on the run-game during the postseason run, with San Francisco rushing for 612 yards in their three playoff games.
What do you think of Warner’s breakdown? Where do you think the Niners will finish in rushing yards for the 2021 season?