I Love it When a Team Comes Together: 49ers Bounce Back

Aug 24, 2015 at 1:26 AM7


The defense looked dominant. Special teams were inspiring. The offense showed the ability to grind field and eat clock, while transitioning to a rushing attack that appears to be dominated by zone running. The 49ers put together the type of game they needed to, in order to quiet outside concerns and build momentum toward the regular season. And the field didn't even eat anyone.

By shuffling the depth chart at corner and inserting NaVorro Bowman and Aaron Lynch into the starting lineup, the 49ers defense quickly erased memories of a tentative unit that could not get off of the field on third down last week. Bowman was credited with three tackles on the opening three-and-out (he stole one from Lynch, who actually finished off a running back after a blitzing Bowman forced the back to alter his course). Nick Moody was playing faster and with better confidence. Quentin Dial looked as large and easy to move as a mountain. Coverage was generally disciplined and aggressive.

Brian Bahr-Getty Images


Special teams were strong in all aspects. 49er fans must have long memories to remember a time when the moments leading up to a punt return were more exciting than nerve-wracking. The Cowboys players were more worried than 49ers fans on Sunday. When the Cowboys were actually able to return a kickoff (Bradley Pinion was collecting touchbacks like Jarryd Hayne was collecting return yards), the coverage was smothering. To top it off, the 49ers made all of their field goals and blocked a punt for a TD.

The offense wasn't perfect, but it very nearly produced a touchdown on an impressive opening drive. A team that had built it's foundation on running Power left and Power right was moving the ball at will with inside zones and zone reads. Of the fifteen plays run by the starting offense, the 49ers ran the ball nine times. All nine of those runs were zone plays. There are still some kinks to work out with the zone blocking (who to combo with, when to leave the combo to block a LB), but the holes were there and the yards were gained. In fact, the 49ers would likely have scored a TD on the 1st-and-goal run during the impressive initial offensive series of the game, if Mike Davis had the vision to cut the run back one additional gap to his left (he ran-actually jumped-into a mess inside, while Vernon Davis had secured the edge for a big run). I believe Kendall Hunter has historically shown the vision and agility to make that cut, and Carlos Hyde clearly demonstrated that ability and patience today. Oh, and Reggie Bush is on this team.

The passing offense looks concerning, but the pieces appear to be there. The pass protection held up whenever the communication was right. On the three plays where Colin Kaepernick was pressured or hit, the error appeared to be in communication, rather than scheme, technique, or talent. We'll look at each of those pass plays quickly.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


On the fourth play of the first offensive drive, Marcus Martin appeared to be stuck in no man's land. He initially stepped left to help Joe Looney with the defensive tackle, but Erik Pears immediately set so far to the outside that it appeared he clearly expected help to the inside. Pears' DE reacted immediately to the gap that opened between Martin and Pears and adjusted his pass rush to the inside, which put Pears at a dramatic disadvantage. Martin saw Pears getting beat and stepped back out to the right to help, but he was too late and Kaepernick was flushed from the pocket. It is hard to know whether Pears or Martin was wrong without knowing what line call was made, but I tend to assume that the more veteran player knows his assignment, and Looney had the DT handled from the snap of the ball.


On the tenth play of the first offensive drive, the Cowboys defensive coordinator fooled the 49ers line call. The 49ers were in a 5 man protection. The Dallas defense showed blitz, and they did blitz. The trick is that they showed pressure from four players on the right side of the offensive line before the snap, but they only brought two rushers from the right and sent three from the left. The initial look caused the 49ers to slide their protection to the right, leaving two blockers to the left side. With two blockers set against three pass rushers, the LDE came free, hurrying Kaepernick's throw.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports


On the second play of the second drive, Joe Looney appeared not to recognize a three man stunt by the Cowboys defensive line, in which the DT and DE on the right of the offensive line both slanted left, and the DT to the left of the offensive line looped over the top of both of them to assume the contain rush responsibility. Martin or Pears could have communicated that their assigned defensive lineman was slanting, or Boone or Looney could have recognized or communicated that their defensive end was looping away, but no adjustment was made. Martin should have passed his DT to Looney, Pears should have passed his DE to Martin, and Pears should have caught the looping DT after he cleared the two slanting DL. Instead, Looney stepped left, opening a gap for the slanting DT to rush into. Martin was forced to stay with him, because the inside rusher is always the most dangerous and disruptive. Pears was forced to stay with his DE for the same reason, as Martin was unable to assist Pears from the inside. As a result, all three DL penetrated the pocket and Kaepernick was sacked for a big loss, killing the drive.

While 49ers fans would no doubt prefer that there were no protection issues to clean up, exiting the second preseason game with the starting line surrendering their only three pressures to correctable and coachable errors rather than a dearth of talent or desire should be a welcome change from years past. Erik Pears looks like a starting right tackle, which must be a relief to 49er fans whose curiosity could not have been sated by Pears five meager plays last week.

Last week, the offense looked overmatched and the defense looked average. This week, the 49ers controlled the game while dominating the line of scrimmage against a good Dallas team that emphasizes dominant line play. NaVorro Bowman returned to solidify the interior of the defense, and Aaron Lynch bolstered the pass rush while setting the edge. The offensive line began to gel, and Jarryd Hayne electrified the stadium in the return game.

Things are looking up in San Francisco.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


7 Comments

  • Paul
    Pears was graded second to last for all qualified players at his position last year, so to suggest he's that much more impressive at tackle than guard may be a bit misleading. The market interest for the guy seems to confirm that suspicion of mine. Id also keep in mind that the 49ers signed him as a guard, not tackle, as Davis was still on the team at the time. Thats where Baalke primarily saw his value. As for Dallas, yes - I did find everything they did very vanilla. Nevertheless, your subjective understanding of what you think Dallas and SF tried to do is really quite the reach, Aaron. And please, don't you worry about my time. I have plenty of time to waste, but I appreciate the concern. And so sorry that I had to waste yours. But yes, bravo to a 49er team "coming together" (i.e. dudes playing their butts off to make a roster - any roster - so they can realize their NFL dream.) Thats a nice way of looking at it. I truly appreciate your work, and think you're doing a nice job, but I think you can do better than writing pieces like this.
    Aug 24, 2015 at 9:01 PM
    0
  • Paul
    Read up, people - quantifiable data indicating preseason success may actually have the reverse effect on regular season outcomes. This is why this read above, to put it candidly, is basically meaningless. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/sports/football/are-nfl-preseason-games-meaningless-spoiler-yes.html?_r=0 And Aaron, let me ask you one thing: should we take more value in Pears performance from an incredibly small sample size against second-tier players playing vanilla schemes, or what he has done his entire career? PFF grades him out as a player that seems to conflict with your rather hasty - and just a tad bit optimistic - assessment. Tell me where I'm wrong with that?
    Aug 24, 2015 at 7:52 PM
    0
    Response: If you look at Pears career before 2013, the period of his career in which he was used almost exclusively as a right tackle, he grades much higher. Basically, he wasn't a very good guard, which can be true of a lot of really tall, relatively slender lineman (Boone is one of the exceptions). Maybe 1 or 2 seasons is an incredibly small sample size for assessing such a long career? He's generally been a good pass protector throughout his career. But he struggled with the physicality of the interior run game. As far as the rest of your post, you'll probably find that people are more willing to read your links when you don't come off deliberately condescending. Everyone knows that it's preseason. Do you feel that Dallas' defense was MORE vanilla than the SF offense in this game? I don't. Wouldn't that tilt the scheme advantage toward the Cowboy front? I should end this reply already. You've already wasted a great deal of time replying to an article that wasn't worthy of your time in the first place.
  • Paul
    Tim and JD, its clear based on your responses that you either didn't understand the broader point that I advanced, or that you couldn't come up with an intellectually coherent counterpoint to undermine mine. That explains why you would come after my personal character and compare me to Paul Guitierrez. Im sure Kawakami is on that level too because he says really, really mean things about our favorite football team, am I right? So, which is it? Let me know if you two need me to connect the dots. Ill be happy to elaborate #korysheets #natedavis #stevespurrier
    Aug 24, 2015 at 7:13 PM
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  • JD
    LOL at Tim. So true. Totally agree. Aaron obviously knows what he is talking about and I enjoy his articles so much. But with Vegas odds as Paul's support, why are the 49ers even planning on playing any games?
    Aug 24, 2015 at 3:13 PM
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  • Tim
    Lol, I love people like "paul" who criticize an article as a waste of time in a multi sentence critique... Its such a waste of time he read the whole thing then took time to comment about it. And then he sums up his assessment by citing vegas odds... You can't even make this stuff up. Paul Gutierrez is that you?
    Aug 24, 2015 at 12:18 PM
    0
  • Paul
    Way too much to be made - both from the positive and the negative - based on just a few possessions from two preseason games. These kinds of articles are ultimately a waste of everyones time, including yours, Aaron. History only dignifies this position. Just ask Mike Singletary. But if you think Im wrong, feel free to put your money on it. Vegas doesn't have the niners winning more than six games. Im not trying to be a downer, just realistic.
    Aug 24, 2015 at 11:08 AM
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  • jedediahyork
    That blitz package worries me a little bit. Kap could have beaten it by running to his right. He looked like a deer in the headlights. He needs to be able to react to an exotic blitz package better than that. Granted, in a regular season, we'd gameplay for that, but a guy with that kind of mobility shouldn't be reacting to a blitz by back peddling.
    Aug 24, 2015 at 3:07 AM
    0
    Response: They only got pressure on Kaepernick with one blitz, and the pressure was so quick that he had to get the ball out immediately. If he had time to complete his progression, he could have found Hyde on an angle route. In a regular season game, the coaches likley would scheme to have that angle route earlier in the progression against a blitz. When Kaepernick was sacked, there were only 4 pass rushers, so it wasn't really a blitz. As you mentioned, and Tim Ryan said during the game, Kaepernick could have escaped pressure around the left end for a big gain. What we don't know is what coaching points were stressed to him before the game/series. A lot of time in scrimmages (PS games are just fancy scrimmages), coaches pick specific aspects of the play or offense for a QB to focus on. If Kaep was instructed to throw the ball on every pass play for that series/game, it makes sense why he didn't scramble. That said, having three guys come free that early can make it look like there's nowhere to go. It's tough to grade a QB harshly when three DL are in the backfield inside of 1.5 seconds.

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