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Our Defensive Coordinator, Vic Fangio

  • buck
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Prior to last year the complaints about Fangio were that he was too vanilla, that he did not rotate the defensive line sufficiently, and that he did use the blitz enough.

Last year, he did rotate the defensive line. It seemed that he did call more blitzes.

Fangio appears to have made adjustments last year. I feel confident that he will continue to adapt and explore.

Our special teams coverage seemed to improve. Our return game still needs to get better, and I think much better.

Our offense, and the passing offense in particular, seemed to remain the same. I saw very little adaptation on the part of our offensive coaching staff. The passing game needs to improve significantly, to at least become more efficient.

In short, in my estimation, Fangio and the defense are the least of our problems.

I hope that, but not necessarily expect, the offensive coaching staff will make what appear to be the clearly needed changes.

Looking forward to the draft and I can not wait for the games to begin.
  • Giedi
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Originally posted by buck:
Originally posted by Giedi:
The guy is the defensive coordinator, and it's his job to advocate for his side of the LOS. It would be idiotic to think he doesn't have *any* say in the draft at all. Good DC's push for their players - after all, it's their job on the line too if the front office doesn't give them the tools to succeed. Now, Baalke has the ultimate last word on who is to be drafted, that's true. But my criticism isn't so much on how this organization drafts, as it's their defensive philosophy.

That's a side issue.

We agree Fangio does not draft.

I previously stated that Fangio has input or in your words advocate for his side of the LOS.

Now, you seem to agree with my argument that Fangio does not do the drafting.

I am glad that this side issue is resolved.

The real issue is whether or not Fangio *can* adjust and get his defense to defend the pass better in the post season. I hope so. As for the other points, they are minor in contrast to his inability to develop/draft/get better cornerbacks, unlike George Seifert who was able to constantly churn out great ones. Fangio's talent is getting great DE/OLBs and that's a great skill set that George never had, so George had to get free agents to supplement that missing side (Richard Dent, Kevin Green etc..). Fangio may have to do the reverse and get good free agents, or overdraft that position to correct his weakness on the CB/DB side. Again the dome patrol defense, with excellent linebackers is a good defense, but historically it hasn't held up in the post season. Now with this next draft, we'll see if he'll get (and I do mean Fangio, not Baalke or Harbaugh) that area of the defense shored up. The Extension of Donatelle is important and telling because if Fangio is unsuccessful, the next guy in line to have that job would be Donatelle.
[ Edited by Giedi on Mar 20, 2014 at 10:44 AM ]
  • buck
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Originally posted by Giedi:
The real issue is whether or not Fangio *can* adjust and....

Maybe, you should not have brought up issues that were not real.

But, we agree on the drafting.

Have a good day.
Originally posted by NCommand:
Originally posted by Giedi:
The guy is the defensive coordinator, and it's his job to advocate for his side of the LOS. It would be idiotic to think he doesn't have *any* say in the draft at all. Good DC's push for their players - after all, it's their job on the line too if the front office doesn't give them the tools to succeed. Now, Baalke has the ultimate last word on who is to be drafted, that's true. But my criticism isn't so much on how this organization drafts, as it's their defensive philosophy.

Again, the main thrust of my peeve is that they are not designed to win in the post season. When was the last time Walsh had all pro middle linebackers and won the Super Bowl? Nothing against P Willis or Bowman, but Walsh had 3 Super bowls and the emphasis and genius of his defense was to stop the pass, not the run. Seifert has two Super Bowl wins, and his first one was built on Walsh's defensive emphasis on stopping the pass, not the run, in the post season.

Seattle under Pete, essentially was using Seifert's defensive design, to win the last Super Bowl. While, our dome patrol defense keeps failing in the post season. In 1994, we didn't get a safety in free agency to put us over the top, we got a CB in Deion. Last three drafts, lots of cap space and draft resources was devoted to the safety position rather than the CB position. I think the fact that we haven't emphasized strong cornerback play, and emphasized strong front 7 play goes back to the dome patrol philosophy which hasn't won a Super Bowl as far as I know. That's my peeve on Fangio, not the fact that he drafts or doesn't draft. That's a side issue.

Yeah, we do tend to work backwards a bit. For instance, we lean heavily on the run while many teams basically only use it to keep defenses honest. Fangio could care less if you march up and down the field as long as you don't give up TD's or give up an easy bomb. That said, while many say the focus is on the front 7, and while we have the best 4 LB's in the game WITH rotational depth (esp. at OLB), he rarely changes up scheme or design and rarely rushes the ILB's, S's or CB's or overloads pass rushers to one side. In short, he's very vanilla. His coverage schemes on the back end are more elaborate (complicated) for sure. Playing off coverage 15 yards on 3rd and 5, I'll never understand esp. when he does this WHILE blitzing; talk about giving the QB an easy out. So there are quite a few head-scratching things he does esp. when he had a history/reputation with the Dome Patrol...it just seems that no matter coach comes here, they are VERY conservative from Nolan to Singletary to Fangio to Harbaugh/Roman. Fortunately for Fangio/HaRoman we have supreme talent that can run just about any scheme and get better and better in it. But at some point, like in the playoffs, you're right...coaching/game-planning is the difference between two equally talented teams. And I feel this is an area we clearly have been let down the past 3 years (from offense to defense to special teams).

Good takes guys. I just wanted to touch on the bolded. I was too young to remember how Seifert attacked schematically, whether he was trying to stop the run first or pass first. I do know that SEA plays to stop the run first. They often use a 6-2 front with a single high safety, and you don't do that if you are trying to stop the pass first. Every good defense tries to control the LoS first and foremost, and that's done by stopping the run. The 49ers have recently had good success keeping the lid on dynamic passing attacks such as NO, NE, and GB so the results are there. They do this by making the other team one dimensional, then they take it from there. Geidi, is there anything that makes you sure that Seifert was set on stopping the pass first, as opposed to the run? That seems very opposite to a traditional defensive philosophy.

NC, I agree that Fangio's strategies with regards to blitzing is rather vanilla and that the complexity in his scheme is mainly in the defensive backfield. He loves to disguise coverage. I think I can summarize his philosophy with regards to pass defense in two points:
- Make the QB hold onto the ball by making him think longer (this helps the pass rush)
- Don't give up big plays downfield

I think I know why Fangio has his CBs play with a cushion on 3rd downs. 3rd down is the money down as this is when OCs and DCs make their money. As a DC, the best way to know what the opposing offense thinks its strengths are is by studying what that offense does on 3rd downs. Since as an OC, 3rd down is where you go to your strengths. So suppose Fangio thinks he has the opposing offense scouted and has relayed his findings to the defense.

It's gameday and 3rd down comes around. Fangio has scouted the offense and knows their favorite tendencies (route combinations, formations, and concepts) that the offense likes to use on the money down. He then asks his CBs to play with a cushion to help them be able to read the play and jump routes. The results are there as the 49ers were tied for third (in the NFL) in 3rd down defense, allowing opponents to convert 34% of the time.

It does seem like Fangio/Donatell want some bigger CBs. This is most likely because they want the option of playing press or with a cushion, with equal effectiveness. This just gives the QB more to think about. Playing press with Brown and Rogers was not playing to their strengths as individuals. Brown is meh, but Rogers would get burnt if he lost on his bump since he had poor recovery speed. I don't think we'll ever see them stop playing with a cushion, because of the benefits it has, but I do see them playing press more often, in the name of giving opposing QBs/WRs more to think about.

It may seem stupid at times, but playing with a cushion is actually forcing the CB to think more as they are being asked to identify plays. Playing bump and run is very simple in terms of not forcing the CB to think much - it's all athleticism and instincts. The way I see it (and I'd love to hear other's takes):

Benefits of playing with a cushion:
- Help CB get a better view of developing route combinations (wideout and slot WR/TE in peripheral)
- Relieve pressure on safeties having to help right at the snap of the ball
- Able to see the QB handoff to the RB without losing sight of the WR
- Attack downhill on run plays
- Able to read the QB drop while keeping an eye on the WR (knowing if it's a 3/5/7 step drop gives clues to depth of the routes)

Cons to playing with cushion:
- Easy short completions if CB doesn't read the QB drop properly
- Give up WR screen passes
- CBs that can't think the game can't take advantage of its benefits
  • buck
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  • Posts: 11,504
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has agreed to a one-year extension through 2015, a league source confirmed. His defenses have ranked among the top three in scoring each of his three seasons with the 49ers.

I might learn to like Vanilla.


http://www.49erswebzone.com/
[ Edited by buck on Mar 20, 2014 at 5:17 PM ]
Originally posted by thl408:
Originally posted by NCommand:
Originally posted by Giedi:
The guy is the defensive coordinator, and it's his job to advocate for his side of the LOS. It would be idiotic to think he doesn't have *any* say in the draft at all. Good DC's push for their players - after all, it's their job on the line too if the front office doesn't give them the tools to succeed. Now, Baalke has the ultimate last word on who is to be drafted, that's true. But my criticism isn't so much on how this organization drafts, as it's their defensive philosophy.

Again, the main thrust of my peeve is that they are not designed to win in the post season. When was the last time Walsh had all pro middle linebackers and won the Super Bowl? Nothing against P Willis or Bowman, but Walsh had 3 Super bowls and the emphasis and genius of his defense was to stop the pass, not the run. Seifert has two Super Bowl wins, and his first one was built on Walsh's defensive emphasis on stopping the pass, not the run, in the post season.

Seattle under Pete, essentially was using Seifert's defensive design, to win the last Super Bowl. While, our dome patrol defense keeps failing in the post season. In 1994, we didn't get a safety in free agency to put us over the top, we got a CB in Deion. Last three drafts, lots of cap space and draft resources was devoted to the safety position rather than the CB position. I think the fact that we haven't emphasized strong cornerback play, and emphasized strong front 7 play goes back to the dome patrol philosophy which hasn't won a Super Bowl as far as I know. That's my peeve on Fangio, not the fact that he drafts or doesn't draft. That's a side issue.

Yeah, we do tend to work backwards a bit. For instance, we lean heavily on the run while many teams basically only use it to keep defenses honest. Fangio could care less if you march up and down the field as long as you don't give up TD's or give up an easy bomb. That said, while many say the focus is on the front 7, and while we have the best 4 LB's in the game WITH rotational depth (esp. at OLB), he rarely changes up scheme or design and rarely rushes the ILB's, S's or CB's or overloads pass rushers to one side. In short, he's very vanilla. His coverage schemes on the back end are more elaborate (complicated) for sure. Playing off coverage 15 yards on 3rd and 5, I'll never understand esp. when he does this WHILE blitzing; talk about giving the QB an easy out. So there are quite a few head-scratching things he does esp. when he had a history/reputation with the Dome Patrol...it just seems that no matter coach comes here, they are VERY conservative from Nolan to Singletary to Fangio to Harbaugh/Roman. Fortunately for Fangio/HaRoman we have supreme talent that can run just about any scheme and get better and better in it. But at some point, like in the playoffs, you're right...coaching/game-planning is the difference between two equally talented teams. And I feel this is an area we clearly have been let down the past 3 years (from offense to defense to special teams).

Good takes guys. I just wanted to touch on the bolded. I was too young to remember how Seifert attacked schematically, whether he was trying to stop the run first or pass first. I do know that SEA plays to stop the run first. They often use a 6-2 front with a single high safety, and you don't do that if you are trying to stop the pass first. Every good defense tries to control the LoS first and foremost, and that's done by stopping the run. The 49ers have recently had good success keeping the lid on dynamic passing attacks such as NO, NE, and GB so the results are there. They do this by making the other team one dimensional, then they take it from there. Geidi, is there anything that makes you sure that Seifert was set on stopping the pass first, as opposed to the run? That seems very opposite to a traditional defensive philosophy.

NC, I agree that Fangio's strategies with regards to blitzing is rather vanilla and that the complexity in his scheme is mainly in the defensive backfield. He loves to disguise coverage. I think I can summarize his philosophy with regards to pass defense in two points:
- Make the QB hold onto the ball by making him think longer (this helps the pass rush)
- Don't give up big plays downfield

I think I know why Fangio has his CBs play with a cushion on 3rd downs. 3rd down is the money down as this is when OCs and DCs make their money. As a DC, the best way to know what the opposing offense thinks its strengths are is by studying what that offense does on 3rd downs. Since as an OC, 3rd down is where you go to your strengths. So suppose Fangio thinks he has the opposing offense scouted and has relayed his findings to the defense.

It's gameday and 3rd down comes around. Fangio has scouted the offense and knows their favorite tendencies (route combinations, formations, and concepts) that the offense likes to use on the money down. He then asks his CBs to play with a cushion to help them be able to read the play and jump routes. The results are there as the 49ers were tied for third (in the NFL) in 3rd down defense, allowing opponents to convert 34% of the time.

It does seem like Fangio/Donatell want some bigger CBs. This is most likely because they want the option of playing press or with a cushion, with equal effectiveness. This just gives the QB more to think about. Playing press with Brown and Rogers was not playing to their strengths as individuals. Brown is meh, but Rogers would get burnt if he lost on his bump since he had poor recovery speed. I don't think we'll ever see them stop playing with a cushion, because of the benefits it has, but I do see them playing press more often, in the name of giving opposing QBs/WRs more to think about.

It may seem stupid at times, but playing with a cushion is actually forcing the CB to think more as they are being asked to identify plays. Playing bump and run is very simple in terms of not forcing the CB to think much - it's all athleticism and instincts. The way I see it (and I'd love to hear other's takes):

Benefits of playing with a cushion:
- Help CB get a better view of developing route combinations (wideout and slot WR/TE in peripheral)
- Relieve pressure on safeties having to help right at the snap of the ball
- Able to see the QB handoff to the RB without losing sight of the WR
- Attack downhill on run plays
- Able to read the QB drop while keeping an eye on the WR (knowing if it's a 3/5/7 step drop gives clues to depth of the routes)

Cons to playing with cushion:
- Easy short completions if CB doesn't read the QB drop properly
- Give up WR screen passes
- CBs that can't think the game can't take advantage of its benefits

excellent post! Agree on all points. The game film backs up all of your assertions as well.
At the end of last season, Bucs Cards and Falcons all came back on us in the 2nd half with consistent short passing drives. I don't know about press vs cushion, but you must generate heat on the qb when the other team starts to generate momentum. I think that's a piece that's not always there with our D playcalling. Seems to lack that nose for the game situation. We don't necessarily read when things are slipping away from us and react proportionately, urgently.
Originally posted by brodiebluebanaszak:
At the end of last season, Bucs Cards and Falcons all came back on us in the 2nd half with consistent short passing drives. I don't know about press vs cushion, but you must generate heat on the qb when the other team starts to generate momentum. I think that's a piece that's not always there with our D playcalling. Seems to lack that nose for the game situation. We don't necessarily read when things are slipping away from us and react proportionately, urgently.

But you also have to have players that can play a press man effectively. Whenever I saw us in press man last year on the game film it didn't help defeat the short routes any better than the off coverage. In some cases it was less effective. I think sometimes as fans we think of press coverage as a short route beating technique. The purpose of press coverage isn't to defeat short routes, it's to disrupt the timing of a qb and receiver on 3,5, or 7 step drops as many routes and throws are predicated on the timing of the drop and the throw.

Both techniques have their uses and times to use. Also, through watching the film, you can't put all the blame on Fangio for those teams coming back. I watched the film and the drives you're referring to. In each of those drives Fangio used a LOT of different defenses to try and stop the opposing team. He used cover 1 with a blitz, cover-0 cover3 cover 2 man, cover 2 zone, cover 4 and sometimes press and off coverage and it seemed like the common denominator wasn't the coverage it was consistent poor execution.
  • Giedi
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Originally posted by NCommand:
Yeah, we do tend to work backwards a bit. For instance, we lean heavily on the run while many teams basically only use it to keep defenses honest. Fangio could care less if you march up and down the field as long as you don't give up TD's or give up an easy bomb. That said, while many say the focus is on the front 7, and while we have the best 4 LB's in the game WITH rotational depth (esp. at OLB), he rarely changes up scheme or design and rarely rushes the ILB's, S's or CB's or overloads pass rushers to one side. In short, he's very vanilla. His coverage schemes on the back end are more elaborate (complicated) for sure. Playing off coverage 15 yards on 3rd and 5, I'll never understand esp. when he does this WHILE blitzing; talk about giving the QB an easy out. So there are quite a few head-scratching things he does esp. when he had a history/reputation with the Dome Patrol...it just seems that no matter coach comes here, they are VERY conservative from Nolan to Singletary to Fangio to Harbaugh/Roman. Fortunately for Fangio/HaRoman we have supreme talent that can run just about any scheme and get better and better in it. But at some point, like in the playoffs, you're right...coaching/game-planning is the difference between two equally talented teams. And I feel this is an area we clearly have been let down the past 3 years (from offense to defense to special teams).

I don't think Fangio is weak on scheme's - rather he's really good at developing the front 7, his linebackers have always been excellent, so have his D LInemen, but he doesn't seem to be able to develop Cornerbacks very well. With Seifert, he could develop defensive backs (1981, Lott Wright, Williamson were rookies and did ok) then you add Walsh who could spot dominating pass rushers. That combo got us 4 super bowl defenses. This defense is almost there, and I think a de-emphasis on the front seven (namely the middle linebacker) and an EM-phasis on cornerback development will go a long way to getting this defense stronger in post season play.
  • Giedi
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Originally posted by buck:
Maybe, you should not have brought up issues that were not real.

But, we agree on the drafting.

Have a good day.

Hey its an opinion, I can bring up any opinion I want. The sky is blue. There. I brought it up, nothing related to Fangio but I think it's a fair opinion. Listen, everybody has opinions, they are like armpits, they all stink.
  • Giedi
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  • Posts: 3,932
Originally posted by thl408:
Good takes guys. I just wanted to touch on the bolded. I was too young to remember how Seifert attacked schematically, whether he was trying to stop the run first or pass first. I do know that SEA plays to stop the run first. They often use a 6-2 front with a single high safety, and you don't do that if you are trying to stop the pass first. Every good defense tries to control the LoS first and foremost, and that's done by stopping the run. The 49ers have recently had good success keeping the lid on dynamic passing attacks such as NO, NE, and GB so the results are there. They do this by making the other team one dimensional, then they take it from there. Geidi, is there anything that makes you sure that Seifert was set on stopping the pass first, as opposed to the run? That seems very opposite to a traditional defensive philosophy.


NC, I agree that Fangio's strategies with regards to blitzing is rather vanilla and that the complexity in his scheme is mainly in the defensive backfield. He loves to disguise coverage. I think I can summarize his philosophy with regards to pass defense in two points:
- Make the QB hold onto the ball by making him think longer (this helps the pass rush)
- Don't give up big plays downfield

Fangio's basic philosophy is to confuse the QB and pressure him into making mistakes using the blitzing 3-4 defense. He doesn't seem to emphasize defensive coverage. I think Fangio over-emphasizes the run defense at the expense of the pass defense. He's a DC that likes *pressure* (rather than coverage) to force turnovers and mistakes on the part of the QB and his passing attack. George was a great defensive back's coach. He had a defense for every scheme. Now I understand that era is over and this is a new era with new defensive rules and so on, but what I think can translate from the George Siefert era is that his defenses were geared to stop the pass first. Not the run.

What do I mean - Pass first, run second? Well, how often do we use the nickel defense? Probably a majority of the time. Why? Most teams have to catch up to us. I bet we use the base defense probably around less than 40 percent. When we (under Fangio) have to stop the run, we use the base defense and our three down linemen go big and heavy. But when we go nickel, we have a vulnerability on the CB position, and why I think that is what it is - is philosophy. Fangio believes that a good strong front 7 will negate needing a really good defensive backfield. That's the dome patrol defense, in my opinion. George, on the other hand, designed his defenses to stop the pass (at least his nickel defense was very strong against the pass). George always had great CB's and Walsh provided him with great pass rushers. The best pass defense is a combination of great DB's that can cover Wr's and great D Linemen that can rush the passer. The Linebackers didn't really have that great a role in George's Nickel D, other than look for the back coming out of the backfield and tracking the TE's in the middle zone areas.

In an era where it's a passing league, why would a defense emphasize stopping the run? Don't get me wrong, I think it's important to stop the run, because if you don't - the other team will simply play keep away with a ball control ground attack. George had very good strong run defenses. But he didn't do it with all pro Linebackers. He had very good D Linemen and strong CB's that could turn the RB back into the linebacker and D-line pursuit, and very good run stopping linebackers that would give way to faster coverage linebackers when the nickel was in play. His real defense was the Nickel defense. He'd shut down teams trying to pass on third downs with his nickel personnel.

All I'm saying is that Fangio (as George did) has to shore up the nickel personnel. I still want to stop the run, but with a Base defense, not nickel. I think our current Nickel defense is too linebacker heavy. It's important to have a strong Nickel and Dime defense to shut down passing teams on 3rd down - specially in the post season against elite passing attacks. Teams were in terror when George's nickel defense came on the field. It was a stifling pass defense as Marino found out in '84. I think Fangio has an eye for linebackers, and I think he can afford to take lower round LB's and develop them, but he should really sell it to Baalke that Baalke should place more importance on drafting first round talent DB's and specially Cornerbacks for the nickel defense. I think good Cornerbacks are the foundation stone for a good nickel defense, and you strengthen and protect good cornerbacks with a good pass rush. I don't think it will take a big adjustment for Fangio. He'll still have his strong front 7, but instead of all pro middle linebackers, he'll have all pro cornerbacks.
Originally posted by jonnydel:
But you also have to have players that can play a press man effectively. Whenever I saw us in press man last year on the game film it didn't help defeat the short routes any better than the off coverage. In some cases it was less effective. I think sometimes as fans we think of press coverage as a short route beating technique. The purpose of press coverage isn't to defeat short routes, it's to disrupt the timing of a qb and receiver on 3,5, or 7 step drops as many routes and throws are predicated on the timing of the drop and the throw.

Both techniques have their uses and times to use. Also, through watching the film, you can't put all the blame on Fangio for those teams coming back. I watched the film and the drives you're referring to. In each of those drives Fangio used a LOT of different defenses to try and stop the opposing team. He used cover 1 with a blitz, cover-0 cover3 cover 2 man, cover 2 zone, cover 4 and sometimes press and off coverage and it seemed like the common denominator wasn't the coverage it was consistent poor execution.


My preference would have been to be more aggressive sending bodies at the quarterback so that the throws become less accurate. Send a cornerback in if they are not effective actually covering. What's the loss?
  • buck
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Originally posted by Giedi:
Originally posted by buck:
Maybe, you should not have brought up issues that were not real.

But, we agree on the drafting.

Have a good day.

Hey its an opinion, I can bring up any opinion I want. The sky is blue. There. I brought it up, nothing related to Fangio but I think it's a fair opinion. Listen, everybody has opinions, they are like armpits, they all stink.

You are absolutely correct. As I said before, have a good day.
Originally posted by buck:
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has agreed to a one-year extension through 2015, a league source confirmed. His defenses have ranked among the top three in scoring each of his three seasons with the 49ers.

I might learn to like Vanilla.


http://www.49erswebzone.com/

It's a very sound defensive philosophy...except in the playoffs where we face better talent/coaches. I don't think anyone is thinking we should change the base defense but we should also know when to overload blitzers, sneak up a CB/S blitz, add some more inside blitzes, no longer play off coverage WHILE bringing a blitz, etc.

That said, with Rogers and Brown on the outside, off coverage was about all we could do IMHO. Now with a younger, physical, more aggressive secondary in Brock, Culliver and Reid (excellent range), Fangio might be in position to add some more press coverage to his more complex off coverage schemes for added confusion. Perhaps once he sees the back end can hold their own, he'll allow Willis and Bowman to play more down hill (less in coverage) and even disguise and bring more front 7 pressure. That's what I'm hoping for anyways!
[ Edited by NCommand on Mar 28, 2014 at 8:24 AM ]
Originally posted by thl408:
Good takes guys. I just wanted to touch on the bolded. I was too young to remember how Seifert attacked schematically, whether he was trying to stop the run first or pass first. I do know that SEA plays to stop the run first. They often use a 6-2 front with a single high safety, and you don't do that if you are trying to stop the pass first. Every good defense tries to control the LoS first and foremost, and that's done by stopping the run. The 49ers have recently had good success keeping the lid on dynamic passing attacks such as NO, NE, and GB so the results are there. They do this by making the other team one dimensional, then they take it from there. Geidi, is there anything that makes you sure that Seifert was set on stopping the pass first, as opposed to the run? That seems very opposite to a traditional defensive philosophy.

NC, I agree that Fangio's strategies with regards to blitzing is rather vanilla and that the complexity in his scheme is mainly in the defensive backfield. He loves to disguise coverage. I think I can summarize his philosophy with regards to pass defense in two points:
- Make the QB hold onto the ball by making him think longer (this helps the pass rush)
- Don't give up big plays downfield

I think I know why Fangio has his CBs play with a cushion on 3rd downs. 3rd down is the money down as this is when OCs and DCs make their money. As a DC, the best way to know what the opposing offense thinks its strengths are is by studying what that offense does on 3rd downs. Since as an OC, 3rd down is where you go to your strengths. So suppose Fangio thinks he has the opposing offense scouted and has relayed his findings to the defense.

It's gameday and 3rd down comes around. Fangio has scouted the offense and knows their favorite tendencies (route combinations, formations, and concepts) that the offense likes to use on the money down. He then asks his CBs to play with a cushion to help them be able to read the play and jump routes. The results are there as the 49ers were tied for third (in the NFL) in 3rd down defense, allowing opponents to convert 34% of the time.

It does seem like Fangio/Donatell want some bigger CBs. This is most likely because they want the option of playing press or with a cushion, with equal effectiveness. This just gives the QB more to think about. Playing press with Brown and Rogers was not playing to their strengths as individuals. Brown is meh, but Rogers would get burnt if he lost on his bump since he had poor recovery speed. I don't think we'll ever see them stop playing with a cushion, because of the benefits it has, but I do see them playing press more often, in the name of giving opposing QBs/WRs more to think about.

It may seem stupid at times, but playing with a cushion is actually forcing the CB to think more as they are being asked to identify plays. Playing bump and run is very simple in terms of not forcing the CB to think much - it's all athleticism and instincts. The way I see it (and I'd love to hear other's takes):

Benefits of playing with a cushion:
- Help CB get a better view of developing route combinations (wideout and slot WR/TE in peripheral)
- Relieve pressure on safeties having to help right at the snap of the ball
- Able to see the QB handoff to the RB without losing sight of the WR
- Attack downhill on run plays
- Able to read the QB drop while keeping an eye on the WR (knowing if it's a 3/5/7 step drop gives clues to depth of the routes)

Cons to playing with cushion:
- Easy short completions if CB doesn't read the QB drop properly
- Give up WR screen passes
- CBs that can't think the game can't take advantage of its benefits

I absolutely agree that controlling the LOS is key and that includes stuffing the run AND rushing the passer.

As to your other points, this is a fascinating take and conversation.

As I was reading through all your excellent points, I agreed with every single one of them and I also think that is why I'm excited to see a younger, faster, stronger, bigger and more aggressive secondary...now we may get the opportunity to see both a nice mix of press and of coverage. Plus Bethea is known for timing his blitzes really well as well. Also, playing press affords Fangio the option to sneak in a CB blitz or two b/c they are right there at the LOS.

Also, to your 3rd down off coverage point, I agree, it's not always ineffective. And one thing I've noticed is that when we start to get smoked here, Fangio does bring the heat more and plays a little more press (whether that's right up tight at the LOS and physical or off just a yard or two). Also, with Bowman out, perhaps we'll see less coverage-focus on the ILB's in Willis/Wilhoite...maybe play them down hill more, free them up, delayed blitzes, etc.