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The Demise of our Pass Defense in the Play-Offs

Originally posted by NCommand:
There is some truth here but it's only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is that b/c our secondary could not cover, esp. in the playoffs, the pass rush couldn't get there and get those "coverage sacks." There are a TON of reasons why our secondary failed and some had nothing to do with the pass rush:
  • Fangio (Scheme) - IMHO, d/t poor personnel at the S positions, (range, speed, lack of over-the-top help esp. along the sidelines, short, mismatches, IQ, etc.) Fangio played the odds and started our S's, sometimes as deep as 30 yards to "keep everything in front of them and avoid the big plays." Picture Culliver in the Superbowl and then ask yourself, was there a S even in the general vicinity? Nope! Fangio has the best LBers in the NFL but used 3 of them in coverage a TON. Ever wonder why? The big concern I have with his scheme is the same as it's always been...playing his CB's a mile off on 3rd downs (even 3rd and shorts). The worst is when he dials up a blitz but then plays his CB's a mile off giving the QB an easy pitch-n-catch (an easy hot read). It drives me NUTS!!!! He's very VaNolan-like in this aspect and there was no reason to play this way when you have a more dynamic offense.
  • Whitner - gave up 14 TD's alone...worst in the NFL. He's short, slow and was abused ALL YEAR consistently in the RZ by TE's, RB's and slot WR's. He was also consistently poor in this area last year and this is WITH help underneath by Willis/Bowman (another concern of mine).
  • Goldson - was he EVER matched up on a TE in the RZ/EZ? Had he EVER knocked down a pass along the sidelines on over-the-top coverage? Missed tackles, poor angles, personal foul penalties, blown coverages, beat on double moves even after starting 20 yards deep, etc. Good physical talent, timing on hits, intimidator but didn't have the speed or range needed to help out our CB's. Not the smartest guy either. If you were Fangio, you can't blitz your LB's (play them more down hill) b/c of the poor S play.
  • Brown/Rogers - not the most physical of CB's to say the least (the anti-Seattle). But what concerned me most is that their technique became complacent/weak as the year went on. In fact, Rogers got almost ALL of his INT's the previous year by breaking off coverage and under-cutting (disguised) routes. He didn't do that ONE time last year. Huge drop off across the board on INT's and pass breakups (I believe). Very vanilla. In fact, their entire mindset changed. I can hardly remember either playing a ball in the air. It's almost like they were coached to play the ball once the WR's body language demonstrated the ball arriving vs. keeping the WR at bay AND playing the QB/ball at the same time. As a result of a different "focus" INT's went way down. Rogers struggles in the slot now too (age/motivation). To me, he half-assesd it all year and Baalke took notice...welcome Nnamdi! We are susceptible to WR's like Amendola who can be moved all over the field. That demonstrates a vanilla scheme and poor personnel/adjustments. Both CB's are short and always lose the jump-ball plays and are easily out-muscled.
  • Culliver - again, physically talented, physical and a intimidator but not the sharpest tool in the shed. We weren't beat by better QB's...we were beat by teams with much bigger, taller, stronger, more physical WR's. Culliver has the pedigree Baalke is now looking for but does he have the brains to take it to the next (starting) level?

Great post. The premise of the poster seems to be our pass D was better this year than last, for the most part. Yet, our D was world class intimidating last year, and got soft this year. Forget the stats. We hurt people last year. This year, we were hurt. The dichotomy between playoffs vs regular season is not right. We started falling apart vs new england. We had a laugher with the Cards, but otherwise we were strugging on D for the 8 weeks prior to the Super Bowl, in both regular and post season.
  • cciowa
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Originally posted by brodiebluebanaszak:
Great post. The premise of the poster seems to be our pass D was better this year than last, for the most part. Yet, our D was world class intimidating last year, and got soft this year. Forget the stats. We hurt people last year. This year, we were hurt. The dichotomy between playoffs vs regular season is not right. We started falling apart vs new england. We had a laugher with the Cards, but otherwise we were strugging on D for the 8 weeks prior to the Super Bowl, in both regular and post season.

i thought so to and i was very worried about lack of pass rush, maddening drive extending penalties, missed tackles. i was so used to seeing us being the bully for a year and a half it was a shock to see us being pushed around. i know the guys did a good job vs the packers on defense and made two nice stops in a row in the fourth quarter vs the falcons but i really hope we can get back to our defense bringing out the worst in teams.
We lost two all-pro caliber players, who accounted for the majority of our pass rush, just as we started the gauntlet of playing against 5 of the best QBs in the game in our final 6 games.

How many teams would still come within a few feet of winning the super bowl if the same had happened to them?

Fangio doesnt deserve your crap. His defense still made plays in NE and ATL that allowed the offense to win games. They came close in the super bowl.

Once our pass rush was lost due to tricep and shoulder injuries, our safeties were exposed as one-dimensional hitters. If you give an elite QB as much time as they need to throw to their elite WRs, they are going to move the ball on you. There is just nothing you can do about it. But our safeties were completely ineffective in coverage.

Why did our CBs play so far off WRs? We didnt have safeties who could cover over the top.

Why didnt our LBs blitz more? We didnt have safeties who could cover for them.

I think the strong pass rush we were able to generate before the injuries hid how one dimensional those two were.
The initial question, to explain the discrepancy in performance between halves in the playoff games is impossible to answer, because the answer lies with Fangio and his adjustments at half time, after the opposing offenses had their way with out pass defense in the first half of each game. Being a conservative guy who tries to minimize mistakes, I'm guessing Fangio kept it simple in the first half, and said lets do what has gotten us here, and see if they can beat us. And opposing offenses did just that. Than he adapted effectively in the second half.

If you read the Bucky Brooks article I posted, it describes Fangio's defensive scheme to force wide receivers into the middle to take advantage of Bowman and Willis' speed, to undercut short and intermediate routes. Same for the corners, who can jump short routes because they have safety help deep. These defenses work if the pass rush limits the QB to throwing short routes. In 2011, this scheme produced the highest turnover differential by a defense. But opposing offenses adapted to it in 2012 and our interceptions dropped dramatically.

During the playoffs, a one-armed Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and the rest of the front 4 were unable to put enough pressure to limit QBs to short routes. Rotating pass rushers would have helped but Baalke says Fangio prefers to play his veterans to reduce mistakes. As has been pointed out, we only blitzed twice in the SB. Fangio prefers to not sacrifice zone coverage by rushing one of the back 7. Fangio wants the back 7 to read and react, rather than to attack the offense. Baalke's signing of Glen Dorsey will help our 4 man pass rush. Justin Smiths healed tricep will also help.

Against deep and seam routes, and enough time to throw, our safeties were vulnerable because they were undisciplined as Ncommand points out, bit on fakes, and allowed passes over the top of the defense. Getting a true coverage FS for Cover 1 zones would be an improvement.

Now that we have Nnamdi Asomugha, it will be interesting to see what Fangio does. NA's strength is to use his size and length to force the receiver to the outside where he can use the sideline to help him. Thats what he did in Oakland for 8 years. He can also force receivers to the inside, but than he loses the sideline to limit where the receiver can go. Does he still have the speed to recover? Probably, Fangio will leave Nnamdi on an island along the sideline, if Nnamdi still is effective when he plays to his strengths.
Originally posted by nannite:
We lost two all-pro caliber players, who accounted for the majority of our pass rush, just as we started the gauntlet of playing against 5 of the best QBs in the game in our final 6 games.

How many teams would still come within a few feet of winning the super bowl if the same had happened to them?

Fangio doesnt deserve your crap. His defense still made plays in NE and ATL that allowed the offense to win games. They came close in the super bowl.

Once our pass rush was lost due to tricep and shoulder injuries, our safeties were exposed as one-dimensional hitters. If you give an elite QB as much time as they need to throw to their elite WRs, they are going to move the ball on you. There is just nothing you can do about it. But our safeties were completely ineffective in coverage.

Why did our CBs play so far off WRs? We didnt have safeties who could cover over the top.

Why didnt our LBs blitz more? We didnt have safeties who could cover for them.

I think the strong pass rush we were able to generate before the injuries hid how one dimensional those two were.

I think that if our safeties are crap, then we need to blitz more right? It is a strategy error not to do so. Fangio never really went that way.
Originally posted by buck:
Originally posted by Beeker:
Here's what happened:

Justin Smith was injured.
Aldon Smith was injured.

Depth is needed.

Seems a bit simplistic.

That might explain some of the difference between the regular season and the play-offs, but it does not explain the critical difference of the pass defense in the first and second halves of the Atlanta and Baltimore games.

They were injured in both halves of the Baltimore and Atlanta games, and the pass defense went from piss poor in the first half to decent in the second half of each of those games.

If anything, you would expect the effectiveness of the past defense to decrease, not increase, in the second halves as the accumulated stress on those injuries increased with playing time.

Yes, we do need more depth.

Well, the pass rush explains most of it. When your best DE AND OLB are hurt and there is little to no credible pass rush behind them the DB's are going to pay. Complicating that was the realization that neither one of our safeties are particularly good in coverage.

I think we looked better against Atlanta and Baltimore in the second halves because our offense got its collective sh*t together and started to play like a real team. This allowed the defense time to rest and adjust. Also, both Atlanta and Baltimore had substantial leads by the half and it looked to me like they began to let up some (though it came back to bite Atlanta).

Our problems in the playoffs really started in New England. Brady let the cat out of the bag, and it just got worse from there.

It comes down to pass rush, depth, and secondary coverage in that order. Two of these things have already been addressed by Justin and Aldon getting healthy along with the addition of Glen Dorsey.

I expect that the last piece (good cover FS) and more d-line depth will be added in the draft.
Originally posted by brodiebluebanaszak:
Originally posted by nannite:
We lost two all-pro caliber players, who accounted for the majority of our pass rush, just as we started the gauntlet of playing against 5 of the best QBs in the game in our final 6 games.

How many teams would still come within a few feet of winning the super bowl if the same had happened to them?

Fangio doesnt deserve your crap. His defense still made plays in NE and ATL that allowed the offense to win games. They came close in the super bowl.

Once our pass rush was lost due to tricep and shoulder injuries, our safeties were exposed as one-dimensional hitters. If you give an elite QB as much time as they need to throw to their elite WRs, they are going to move the ball on you. There is just nothing you can do about it. But our safeties were completely ineffective in coverage.

Why did our CBs play so far off WRs? We didnt have safeties who could cover over the top.

Why didnt our LBs blitz more? We didnt have safeties who could cover for them.

I think the strong pass rush we were able to generate before the injuries hid how one dimensional those two were.

I think that if our safeties are crap, then we need to blitz more right? It is a strategy error not to do so. Fangio never really went that way.

Easier said than done. You guys forget that in the playoffs, you're playing against the best of the best.

The Falcons and Ravens receivers gave us all we could handle even when we were expecting the pass. Giving them even more space would not have helped.
Originally posted by brodiebluebanaszak:
I think that if our safeties are crap, then we need to blitz more right? It is a strategy error not to do so. Fangio never really went that way.

If you blitz more, you are forcing the safeties to cover more, which they cant do. At least with Willis and Bowman back there, they can mitigate the damage by pushing everything underneath and into the middle.

Everyone is mad at Fangio because he didnt have some magic solution to losing two of the best defensive players in the league. He did an excellent job mitigating the damage though. But that will only get you so far.
all I know is it all went downhill once Cowboy got knocked out of the NE game. I understand that is a simple explanation, but the coincidence is uncanny. We stopped playing Championship level defense for the rest of that game, season and post season as far as I am concerned.

Kaep being just insanely talented very nearly won us the SB anyway
Defense wasn't super. We would have won the last Super Bowl with ANY of the 5 Super Bowl defenses with us besides the 2012 Defense.

Holding Marino's Offense to a mere 16 points was Super.
Giving up 28 points to Flacco's Offense in half that time was not.

Joe might have gone 1-3 had he had to use our 2012 Defense in his Super Bowls.
[ Edited by OldJoe on Apr 5, 2013 at 2:29 PM ]
Originally posted by nannite:
If you blitz more, you are forcing the safeties to cover more, which they cant do. At least with Willis and Bowman back there, they can mitigate the damage by pushing everything underneath and into the middle.

Everyone is mad at Fangio because he didnt have some magic solution to losing two of the best defensive players in the league. He did an excellent job mitigating the damage though. But that will only get you so far.

Hmmm. Well I'll reserve judgement on that. Blitzing more will pressure the QB making things harder. Going into a soft dime package with mediocre coverage people has never been worth a damn in the NFL. It's never stopped a first down, touchdown or whatever. It gives the QB more time to find the matchups your d will never win. Plus, the more people you put back there the more chance for miscommunication, errors, and so on. Why not blitz the safetys? they can't cover anyway. Maybe they can get to the qb. I mean, I think you have to be creative and take some risks in these situations.

In answer to the OP original analysis -- why were we better in the 2nd than the first -- I think we just got lucky honestly -- due to pressure. At least for the ATL game. Ryan coughed it up and looked rattled once we started sending people. He turned it over 2wice in a row and our O burned time off the clock and produced positive results/yardage, that cooled off ATL. That was the diff in ATL. We squeaked it out because we were getting our butts kicked and let the dogs out and Brooks delivered.

Why save that after being down twenty something? I think that should have been the game plan. Pressure Ryan so he chokes.Otherwise he will torch us.
Nannite, I don't follow your reasoning. Fangio had limitations on our two best DLs. Can't change that. Then you say a dime package doesn't work well, and i agree. But with a 3-4, designed to hide who is blitzing, it befuddles me when the corners and Ss couldn't cover that we didn't use the 3-4 for what it was designed....blitzing. And I am not mad at fangio, roman or JH. I am disappointed in them all, when once again, just like the previous NFC championship game, it slipped thru their fingers. JH and the STs coach should have noted what coughlin had his PR do: get out of the way of the punt. It was sloppy and wet, and blowing. JH failed to do that and we lost the game. Why? Green coach. Inexperienced, yet he got us to NFCC game in his first yr after 9 yrs of never a winning season. It was nothing short of amazing and we dam near won anyway. Just those two PR mistakes, both should have been coached against.

SB: If you can't tackle, and we sure couldn't stop the jumpball pass on the sideline....then blitz. Fangio seems to err on the side of conservatism, and that is not what the 3-4 was designed for, at least not in my mind. Hey, playing nickel and dime sure did keep everything in front of them...but what good does that do when the chains keep moving down the field? Blitzed TWICE? C'mon, that is coaching inexperience, a green coach, and a HC who evidentally it was fine with. Green HC also. So we got beat in last two games of last two yrs on... Coaching errors. And in the case of fangio, who can call a very good game, he called some real sorry ones too. Worst part is not changing your tactics when your plan is a loser. And wth the jumpball sideline passes that the WRs ate us up with, why in the world weren't 5 guys coming once or twice per series? On 3rd down, when they converted them all on jumpballs, does anyone really think it wouldn't have been advisable to try blitzing with 5 guys coming?

So add it all up and we lost from inexperienced green coaching...from 3 guys, roman, JH, fangio, all in their first two seasons. Makes me angry, but then hey, these guys were just inexperienced. Roman on 5 yd line , with 3 plays to score, and has no idea what to call, and JH the same. Put in some amazing wasted clock time aforehand and a wasted T.O, and there is your loss too. AGain, inexperienced coaches...in their second yr and they have gotten us to NFCC, and SB in those first two years. Sure I wanted to win, but based on two seasons of work(first with no TC), these guys, all our coaches, did admirably. I wanted us to win as bad as everybody else, but for all their inexperience, they did super. Let's just hope they have all learned from their mistakes. I strongly feel we are set up for a string of multiple SB wins. The GOAT Coach, Coach Walsh went 2-14, 6-10, and then the SB. I am betting on SB win in season 3 of Coach Harbaugh. Yes he was green, same for fangio, roman. But this yr is ours. Staying healthy would help, as it always does for SB winners. Really and truly, to take a team with no winning season in 9 yrs to the heights? Did you really think we would win with our guys playing together for just one yr? Same for SB, but two yrs playing together? Nope that is not realistic, and the fact we got so far was two remarkable achievements. Realistically, this yr we win.
  • buck
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Originally posted by brodiebluebanaszak:
Great post. The premise of the poster seems to be our pass D was better this year than last, for the most part. Yet, our D was world class intimidating last year, and got soft this year. Forget the stats. We hurt people last year. This year, we were hurt. The dichotomy between playoffs vs regular season is not right. We started falling apart vs new england. We had a laugher with the Cards, but otherwise we were strugging on D for the 8 weeks prior to the Super Bowl, in both regular and post season.

If by the poster, you mean the original poster when you take about what seems to be the premise, you should probably go back and read what t was written.

At no point, was the overall defense mentioned explicitly or implicitly. The post is about our past defense, which with or without the stats, was better during the 2012 regular season than it was in the 2011, and the demise of that improved pass defense in the play-offs.

Not only did the pass defense fall apart in the play-offs, it seemed to develop schizophrenia. It, the pass defense, was horrid in the first half of the Atlanta and the Baltimore games and then played much better in the second half.

That schizophrenic play simply can not be attributed to the injuries to Justin and Aldon Smith. They played in both halves of both games.

If the poor play of one or more of our defensive backs was the key factor in the demise, why did they play better in the second half of the Baltimore and Atlanta game. I do not have the answers.

Based upon what has been discussed in this thread, I would say that the demise of pass defense reflects a confluence of:

1. The injuries to Justin and Aldon Smith that nearly eliminated our pass rush.
2. Weaknesses in the defensive backfield.
3. Poor coaching on the part of Ed Donatell, the secondary coach and/or Vic Fangio, the defensive coordinator.
4. Lethargic, sleep walking play at the beginning of the game. (although seemed to a problem of the whole team, not just the pass defense.

Your point about the demise starting prior to the play offs is valid. The start of the demise sure seems to have started with the injury to Justin Smith.

However, the dichotomy between the regular season and the play-offs is standard in the NFL. The official statistics kept by the NFL, itself, make the distinction between the regular season and the play-offs. Common records, sacs, rushing yards, receiving yards, etc., are based solely on regular season play.
Correct me if im wrong but one of the big changes we made at halftime of both games was started sending more heat from Ahmads side instead of Aldons side. Maybe our first half plan was riding more on the hope that Aldon and Justin could play 100% and once we realized they couldnt we adjusted to an opposite side?!?!?
Originally posted by pasodoc9er:
Nannite, I don't follow your reasoning. Fangio had limitations on our two best DLs. Can't change that. Then you say a dime package doesn't work well, and i agree. But with a 3-4, designed to hide who is blitzing, it befuddles me when the corners and Ss couldn't cover that we didn't use the 3-4 for what it was designed....blitzing. And I am not mad at fangio, roman or JH. I am disappointed in them all, when once again, just like the previous NFC championship game, it slipped thru their fingers. JH and the STs coach should have noted what coughlin had his PR do: get out of the way of the punt. It was sloppy and wet, and blowing. JH failed to do that and we lost the game. Why? Green coach. Inexperienced, yet he got us to NFCC game in his first yr after 9 yrs of never a winning season. It was nothing short of amazing and we dam near won anyway. Just those two PR mistakes, both should have been coached against.

SB: If you can't tackle, and we sure couldn't stop the jumpball pass on the sideline....then blitz. Fangio seems to err on the side of conservatism, and that is not what the 3-4 was designed for, at least not in my mind. Hey, playing nickel and dime sure did keep everything in front of them...but what good does that do when the chains keep moving down the field? Blitzed TWICE? C'mon, that is coaching inexperience, a green coach, and a HC who evidentally it was fine with. Green HC also. So we got beat in last two games of last two yrs on... Coaching errors. And in the case of fangio, who can call a very good game, he called some real sorry ones too. Worst part is not changing your tactics when your plan is a loser. And wth the jumpball sideline passes that the WRs ate us up with, why in the world weren't 5 guys coming once or twice per series? On 3rd down, when they converted them all on jumpballs, does anyone really think it wouldn't have been advisable to try blitzing with 5 guys coming?

So add it all up and we lost from inexperienced green coaching...from 3 guys, roman, JH, fangio, all in their first two seasons. Makes me angry, but then hey, these guys were just inexperienced. Roman on 5 yd line , with 3 plays to score, and has no idea what to call, and JH the same. Put in some amazing wasted clock time aforehand and a wasted T.O, and there is your loss too. AGain, inexperienced coaches...in their second yr and they have gotten us to NFCC, and SB in those first two years. Sure I wanted to win, but based on two seasons of work(first with no TC), these guys, all our coaches, did admirably. I wanted us to win as bad as everybody else, but for all their inexperience, they did super. Let's just hope they have all learned from their mistakes. I strongly feel we are set up for a string of multiple SB wins. The GOAT Coach, Coach Walsh went 2-14, 6-10, and then the SB. I am betting on SB win in season 3 of Coach Harbaugh. Yes he was green, same for fangio, roman. But this yr is ours. Staying healthy would help, as it always does for SB winners. Really and truly, to take a team with no winning season in 9 yrs to the heights? Did you really think we would win with our guys playing together for just one yr? Same for SB, but two yrs playing together? Nope that is not realistic, and the fact we got so far was two remarkable achievements. Realistically, this yr we win.


This. All this. Yes. Right. Exactly.

We'll see how the staff matures. One point: when you talk about inexperience of Roman, Fangio, remember that Roman has had a lot of experience at NFL level, just never an OC before now.

Fangio was DC for years for different teams.
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