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The Wide-9 and What It Means for the 49ers’ Defense

Bret Rumbeck
May 31, 2019 at 8:00 AM0



Philosophically, has your defense changed at all with the change at defensive line and the talk of more wide-nine? Has anything changed from your standpoint about what you want to get accomplished?

"No. We might look different, but philosophically, the overall foundation of the defense hasn't changed."
Robert Saleh. May 29, 2019

Since the San Francisco 49ers hired defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, the rumblings of a "new" wide-9 defense have been floating through the sports page and Twitter timeline.

The wide-9 technique is not a new addition to defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's defensive playbook, but using it with higher frequency and two new high-powered edge defenders are intriguing factors.

Denver is in a strong left formation. Solomon Thomas is in a 6-technique over the Y-receiver; Saleh has his open-side end in a wide-9.

Primer: Defensive Line Terminology and Alignment


As you know, the 49ers run a base 4-3 over and under front. An 'over' front is when the defensive line aligns to the strong or closed side of the offensive formation; an 'under' front is the opposite. The defensive line shifts to the weak or open side of the formation.

Defensive line alignments are described by numbers and letters, each corresponding to a specific spot on the line of scrimmage. For example, a 0-technique is head-up on the center, a 2i-technique is the inside shoulder of the guard, and a 6-technique is head-up on the Y-receiver.

A 9-technique is the strongside defensive end or SAM playing the outside shoulder of the Y-receiver. A wide-9 is the same player about two or three yards off the Y-receiver.

LEO is the open or weakside defensive end, and he'll usually be in a 5 or 6-technique.

A defensive coordinator calls a wide-9 to force the opposing tackle or tight end into a one-on-one situation against a very athletic defensive end.

Further, a talented edge defender can collapse the B and C-gaps, forcing the running back to cut against the grain or back into a sea of defenders.

Like a basketball player who moves without the ball and creates open shots for his teammates, a great edge defender can seal off a ball carrier's escape route, allowing others to make a tackle for loss.

How Can the Offense Counter the Wide-9?


Two capable edge defenders, whether playing from a wide-9 or a 6-technique, force the opposition into protection dilemmas.

Providing help for a tackle leaves the offense with one less receiver in a route or opens gaps on the offensive line. If the offense calls a 'Tug' protection, the tackle and guard exchange assignments; the tackle blocks down and the guard steps around for the linebacker or defensive lineman.

Another option is a 'Tag' block, where the tackle and guard once again trade jobs. The tackle blocks down and the guard pulls around to hook the defensive end over the tackle.

Either situation forces a slower guard to try and stop a freight train off the edge and clears space for interior stunts like quick or delayed 'Me Games.'

Saleh loves the tackle-end exchange stunt. He called it a few times against the Giants. Marsh ran it from a wide-9.

If Ford and Bosa keep blowing by a tackle, the quarterback can use Jet protection which slides four linemen to one side, while the running back and tackle protect the other. Though, I can't imagine any running back who willingly wants to stay in and block either man all afternoon.

Flexibility Creates Problems for the Offense


The late Bill Arnsparger wrote, "…it is mandatory that the defense be flexible and capable of presenting problems to the offense in developing blocking patterns and coverage variations. Mixing the three-and four-man line fonts allows the defense to create problems for the offense." (Bill Arnsparger. Arnsparger's Coaching Defensive Football. 1999. Page 73.)

Saleh buys into this philosophy, and employs multiple variations and hybrid looks to his defensive line, using 3-man, 5-man, and double-A gap looks.

He's also flipped the edge positions around, moving his LEO to a wide-9 and played his strongside end head-up on the Y-receiver. Obviously, keeping the offensive line guessing and the quarterback sweating or shouting protection audibles are critical reasons to showcase different fronts.

More importantly, I'd suggest not getting caught up in position terminology or technique. No terminology or method is permanently tattooed in the football heavens.

In a Week 8 performance against Denver last year, Ford played over 60 snaps on the left side of the defense against Denver while lining up on the right side five times. In total Ford played over 1,100 total snaps, with over 700 on the left side and just over 400 on the right.

Ford's second sack against Denver back in Week 8. He was in a wide-9, isolating tackle Garett Bolles. Bolles was never in a position to make any kind of quality block on Ford, so Bolles did what any desperate offensive lineman would do: he held Ford around the neck to try and slow him down.

Bosa will, from time to time, end up playing on the strong side of the defensive line, and Ford will end up on the weak side.

The wide-9 isn't a new idea for the 49ers, but having the right players and using it more is a significant shift for the 2019 season. It may not always be about racking up more sacks but generating constant pressure that shreds the confidence in a quarterback into ribbons.

All images courtesy of NFL.com.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
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.


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