In our second of three insider reports on the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl XLVII opponent, the San Francisco 49'ers, we hook up with our counterpart over at 49ers101, Mark Ortiz to get the inside scoop on the 49'ers defense.
Ravens101: This 49ers defense is certainly one of the best in the league as they finished the season 4th in total defense, but it did rank in the bottom half of the league in sacks per game, what can San Francisco do to get to Joe Flacco, especially after the vast improvement in the offensive line for Baltimore in the playoffs?
No doubt the lack of sacks has been an issue with the 49ers defensive line. Though I have come to believe that the defensive scheme for the linemen is predicated on advancing pressure and clogging running lanes rather than actually tallying sacks. The 49ers run a 3-4 defense with three down linemen, and more often than not it’s only those three linemen tasked with getting to the quarterback. They rarely blitz their linebackers and almost never blitz their secondary. It’s almost as if they have a "take the good with the bad" mentality for the defensive line. The good being that their scheme has produced an excellent run stop defense that relieves a lot of pressure from the linebackers and secondary. The bad being that they don’t rack up the sacks that many other clubs do. So it’s not that they specifically want to get to Joe Flacco, they just want to keep constant pressure on him to allow the other defensive players to make plays.
It will more or less be a combination of both. Again, it starts with the defensive line; the three down linemen are the key element to the 49ers defensive design. If they clog the running lanes, as is their primary goal, it in turn allows the linebackers and secondary to dedicate all their focus to their individual assignments. Yes, the whole defense is centered around stopping the run, but with that comes focus on the passing game. Like a one two punch, the run defense and the pass defense almost go hand in hand. Whether they can accomplish it is the real question. In their losses during the regular season they struggled with containing the run, as their opponents dedicated themselves to the process of hard running.
Ravens101: Aldon Smith finished second in the league in sacks this season, but there was not another 49er in the top 40, so is it safe to say if Baltimore's offensive line and backfield can keep Smith out of Flacco's face, that the secondary will struggle in pass coverage?
Not to sound repetitive, but yes, they can certainly keep Smith out of Flacco’s face. The object of the defensive line as well as Smith is to maintain constant pressure on the quarterback and clog running lanes. It’s doubtful that Flacco will get sacked in the Super Bowl, but the defensive front will certainly attempt to move him around and force him into errant throws. If the defensive line does not apply that pressure and fill those running gaps, yes the 49ers secondary will struggle with pass coverage.
In the games against Green Bay, there were two specific factors that led to the Packers scoring so many points against the 49ers top tier defense. One was simply Aaron Rodgers; the guy is a master at the quarterback position. And his talents alone propel that Green Bay team to many of their wins and most of their higher scores. He has very crisp route runners in his receiving and tight end unit, so when he has to be brilliant he has the uncanny ability to make a mockery of tough defenses. Secondly, as most teams in the NFL do, the 49ers fell back into a prevent defense protecting a lead. The 49ers tend to give up a lot of points late in games if they are up by a few touchdowns. The same thing happened in the 49ers regular season game against the Patriots. They roughed up the Patriots for three quarters, then fell back into a soft prevent defense to not give up a deep ball. That’s when Brady went off and led the Patriots to three late touchdowns. This is a common practice by just about every team in the NFL, and it’s frustrating as all get out to fans of that perspective team. If the 49ers would have stuck with the defensive scheme that they had used for six of those eight quarters of football in the Green Bay games, the outcome would not have been that close. And there is a strong probability that the Packers would have not scored as many times.
The 49ers win the Super Bowl if they defensively clog those running lanes and manipulate Flacco into tough throws into tight coverage. That is a must, if they struggle with the run to open the first two quarters, it will be a long evening for the 49ers. The 49ers do not try to fool opponents with trick schemes or blitz packages. They run a very simple defensive scheme, a breakdown up front would be detrimental.
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