The 49ers Live and Die by the Blitz

Sep 15, 2003 at 12:00 AM


At their current pace, the 49ers will have 80 sacks by the end of this year. Last year they managed to squeak out 32. The NFL record is 72. By comparison, the 1985 Bears who some consider one of the best defenses ever, amassed 64 sacks on their way to an 18-1 record and a Super Bowl win. The 49ers will surely not duplicate the success of the ’85 Bears, but it seems that their pass rushing woes are behind them.

Or are they?

Only 3 of the 49ers 10 sacks have come from the defensive line. The other seven were attributed to the linebackers or the secondary. This stat is the result of the Niners blitzing more often than Bill Parcells comes out of retirement. On paper it looks like this is a good idea. When watching the games this looks like a good scheme, but blitzing at the frenetic pace that Jimmy Mora does could spell doom, for the 49ers post-season dreams.  

The Buccaneers defense can dominate because it gets pressure form its front four. McFarland, Sapp, Spires and Rice are each huge threats to a quarterbacks future. The 49ers have comparable players, but only one of them makes a living in the defensive line. After the 49-7 destruction of the Bears, it looked like the new exotic schemes that Mora Jr. was utilizing were going to take the 49ers over the top.

The Rams on Sunday showed exactly why the 49ers will live and die by the blitz.

In the first half of Sunday’s game, the Rams looked like frenetic baby goats anxiously looking to the sidelines for some glimmer of hope that the barrage of hurling bodies would subside. In the second quarter Marc Bulger fumbled twice, both times forced because of excellent 49ers pressure. With only 67 total yards in the first half, the Rams "Offensive Machine" looked more like an erector set that spent too much time in the hot desert sun. It looked as though they would wilt away and in the process exorcise the St. Louis Demons.

Even before Cedric Wilson made an inexcusable error with seconds left in the game, the game was slowly changing. When the Rams opened up their first second half drive, they slowly pulled the game away from a 49ers defense that looked unstoppable. And they did it with the run.

Everyone knows that the way to beat the blitz it to run at it. In the first half, Faulk was rarely fed the ball on running plays. The Rams opening three plays were all passes, none of which were completed. On the opening drive of the second half; the Rams first four plays were rushing plays. Over the full drive they rushed 8 times, passed only four times, and scored a touchdown. This forced Mora to remain honest with his blitz packages. Without the blitz, the 49ers defense looked like the defense of old, unable to put pressure on the quarterback and exposing their secondary. In the second half the Rams started to roll. Bulger went 15 of 17 for 155 yards after the half. Without a rush, he had all day to sit back and rip apart the secondary. No longer could the defense implement the zone blitz that wreaked havoc on Bulger. Young and Adams would drop back into coverage leaving the Center and Guard wondering who they were supposed to block, looking for ghosts. Simultaneously Winborn and Peterson would blitz form the left and have Bulger seeing red before he was slammed to the cold St. Louis turf.

Against the Bears the score was so lopsided that the run was not a threat. At the half the score was such that the run was no longer an option for Dick Jaroun. The 49ers could blitz all they wanted, and blitz they did on about 33% of the defensive snaps. As long as the 49ers defense knows it’s a pass they blitz freely and are rewarded for it. When the defense is forced to respect the run, the blitzes slowly come to a halt and opposing quarterbacks are allowed to pick apart a secondary decimated by injuries.

It seems as though the 49ers have a band-aid fix for their most pressing problem.

Without constant pressure, or even a semblance of pressure from the front four, the 49ers battered secondary will once again look like a team on the cusp, not a team in contention. Against the bears, Jimmy Williams looked like a young Rod Woodson and Ahmed Plummer looked like the second coming of Deion Sanders.

If the 49ers can stop the run and get ahead early their Super Bowl dreams will be livelier than a little boy at Christmas. But if the 49ers cant get far enough ahead to dictate the opposing team’s play calling, then repeating as the NFC West Champion will be a tough road.

So far this season the 49ers have lived once and died once by the blitz. Without risk there can be no reward, and the 49ers are definitely being rewarded with a defense that can be absolutely dominating. The fear of a St. Louis relapse remains though, as Mora’s blitz happy scheme definitely places the 49ers defense at risk.
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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