Skins DEFENSE vs the 49ers

Formations

We used a 3-3-5 (3DL, 3LBs, 5DBs) on 3rd and longs in an attempt to confuse and deceive:

The above formation had Jonathan Allen (R.I.P.) at linebacker depth.  He’s going to vacate his zone and rush the QB:

The RB runs to where Allen left and gets an easy catch.  Meanwhile, we tasked Kerrigan to play zone coverage; he takes off to cover a spot on the field without even checking to see where the RB is going.

So that’s a pass rusher playing zone coverage and a defensive lineman lined up as a linebacker, and for what?  If anything we just helped a rookie QB make an easy throw on 3rd and 8.

We have done this 3-3-5 look almost every week going back to the Joe Barry days.  Preston Smith is usually the deceiver–lined up at middle linebacker instead of being at defensive end–and it usually fails.  Please shelve this.

In exotic formations that did work:

That’s Ioaniddis and Jonathan Allen lined up over the Right Guard.  Ion bull rushes the guard, while Allen gets a push on him with his free hand: that’s 1 and 1/2 men vs 1 and it sends the guard backpedaling into the QB’s lap:

It’s a formation that confuses the blocking scheme and doesn’t ask guys to play out of position.  We ran that same concept again, this time with Allen (circled) slanting into the right guard, freeing up Ioannidis to get another sack:

(Brown sees the same route that Garcon got an offensive Pass Interference on late in the game–the one he posted to his Instagram–notice how Brown avoids Garcon on this play.)

The Allen-Ioannidis combo will be missed.

Substitution Notes:  Moreau and Dunbar split snaps opposite Breeland, with Dunbar getting the clear majority.  After Breeland went out, it was Moreau and Dunbar on the outside.  After Moreau went out, Holsey took over at slot and Fuller bumped outside.  Good grief.

At safety, DJ is the only safety asked to play in the box against the run AND in man-coverage.  Nicholson is strictly at deep safety.  Usually we ask both safeties to play all styles (in the box, man-to-man, and deep) but it appears other than DJ, no safety is coached up on the linebacker and corner reads needed to play every style.

What Happened

The Niners tried to make due with the fact they had no passing game by playing formations with multiple tight ends, hoping to gain angles and leverage in the run game.  Our front 8 responded with stunts and linebackers knifed through the zone blocks.

We ended up ceding 3 points which turned into 7 after a penalty by Swearinger (who swung at Garcon for celebrating a hit that did this to Nicholson.)

Pressure was sacrificed for coverage as we asked our defensive ends to jam receivers at the line before they rushed the quarterback.  Starting quarterback Brian Hoyer was forced to hold onto the ball and make throws into tight coverage.  After two missed throws to ‘out’ routes run to the far hash, Shannahan yanked him and put in the rookie CJ Beathard.

After fixing the QB issue, the next issue was how to replace their injured fullback.  First they tried with a TE:

But that didn’t work so they went with 2 running backs in the backfield yielding mixed results.

In the second half they successfully targeted their runs at Breeland, but were not able to score a touchdown until Vernon Davis fumbled and gave them the ball at the one yard line.

Working against the clock, San Francisco had to ditch the run and start throwing.  After Breeland went out with an injury they marched down the field by targeting Moreau and Nicholson.

The last drive saw Moreau leave the game with an injury and our secondary was barely recognizable with rookies at two spots and slot CB Kendall Fuller playing outside.  Zach Brown bailed us out by drawing an offensive pass interference call that put the 49ers in a hole they couldn’t dig out of.

CHART

The Show

Defensive Line
Player + Total
McGee 6 3 3
Hood 2.5 4 -1.5
Ioannidis 5 0 5: pay the man?
Allen 2.5 0.5 2
McClain 0 2 -2: over-paid
Total     6.5

Allen and Ioannidis’ pass rush combo were discussed above.

Stacy McGee turned in his best performance yet.  He usually lines up against tackles and tight ends, kept away from shorter guards and centers that are more apt to win the low-man leverage battles.

He was able to reset the backside edge when Kerrigan went too far up field and left a gaping hole behind him.  On this counter-run, he was able to stand up the center, shed and hold the RB until #91 could recover:

When they ran away from him, he was able to slant and get under the tackle:

Level of competition was low but these are difficult tasks–set the edge and chase down runs away from you–when you’re a 341 pound big man, regardless of opponent.

[After the JUMP: Linebackers, DBs, the 45 Yard TD and predictions]

Ziggy Hood is starting to decline in the middle.  He’s playing a thankless position that few would take on, but he needs to be able to command double teams and this is the second week in a row where a center has handled him one on one.  That is making it tougher for our linebackers because offensive lineman can release up to them faster, and double teams can be spread out elsewhere to guys who normally would be seeing one-on-one blocks.

Terrell McClain has been breaking even for most of the year.  He’s drawing stalemates with his blocks which is not horrible but also not what was expected when we gave him 4 years, $21 million with $10.5 million guaranteed.  That’s an average of $5.2 million a year, which is MORE than Khalil Mack and Leonard Williams.  That is not stalemate money.

Linebackers
Player + Total
Anderson 1 1 0
Galette 0.5 0 0.5
Foster 3.5 5.5 -2
Brown 6.5 4.5 2
Kerrigan 2 6.5 -4.5
Smith 5 2.5 2.5
Total     -1.5

Kerrigan had his worst output of the season but caveats apply.  He struggled with kick out blocks, H-Back pulls and zone coverage: not good but usually he’s able to make up for it with QB pressures and sacks; that was not part of our game plan however as the defensive ends and outside linebackers were asked to jam tight ends at the line to slow their release.  That helped our coverage guys who were reeling with injuries, but didn’t help our front 4 which struggled to generate pressure.  A snapshot:

Coverage 27 20 7
Pressure 7 27 -20
Coverages are awarded a plus (first column) when all routes are covered for a reasonable length, Coverage is given a minus (second column) when there is a bust, the last column is the total for the game.

Pressure + (first column) is influencing the QB in under 3 seconds, Pressure - (second column) is not getting there in 3 seconds or less.  Last column is the total for the game.

Here is an example of what we gained and lost with our game plan.  In the preview I clipped a play that I thought we might see in this game:

And sure enough, we did.  Our answer was for Preston Smith to jam the tight end’s release and delay his route:

Receivers got downfield late and there was nowhere to throw it.  Smith doesn’t get his sack/pressure but our coverage holds up (and in this case we eventually got to the QB.)

Defensive Backs
Player + Total
DJ 5 2.5 2.5: MVP of the secondary
McClure 1 1 0
Breeland 1 7.5 -6.5: Most minuses came against the run
Dunbar 4.5 6.5 -2
Nicholson 0.5 7 -6.5: at fault for the 45 yd TD
Fuller 3 1 2
Moreau 1.5 7.5 -6: Him too
Total     -16.5

One play accounted for -9 (-5 for Nicholson, -4 for Moreau) and it came on the 45 yard touchdown:

Fuller and Moreau are covering the same zone, one is a rookie and the other PFF’s top ranked corner, I’m thinking Moreau screwed this one up.

Even if it wasn’t Moreau’s assignment to carry the deep WR (which it totally was) he can see right in front of him that the zone is covered by Fuller and no coverage would ever call for 2 guys in the same spot.

Besides that, Nicholson has zero deep threats coming at him except the one screaming down the sideline.  He has no reason to be stuck in the middle of the field for as long as he was:

(“coverage” for this play was minus 4 which is the standard for all big touchdown throws.)

Another issue with our DBs was the lack of experience at safety.  DJ is asked to take care of all run responsibilities in the box AND  man coverage.  Sometimes teams can motion and take advantage of that:

3 things:

  1. Normally, after the motion, DJ would drop into deep coverage and Nicholson would come down and play in the box.  But as it stands, only DJ knows how to make linebacker reads versus the run.  So in that case the LBs need to bump over, which they don’t.
  2. Foster attacks the gap that the nominal fullback is running into.  Problem is, it was already filled by a defensive lineman.  Two guys in the same gap inside left room for a big run outside.
  3. Kerrigan can’t fight through a crack block from a WR.  Not good.

For the most part we are able to get DJ in the right position.  But by the end of this year we need 2 safeties that can handle all duties or more experienced offenses can make us pay with formations and motion.

The preview mentioned that Quinton Dunbar hasn’t been tested by the whole route tree and that the Niners might tighten their WR splits, and run some ‘in’ and ‘out’ routes to see how Dunbar handles them.

They did, about three times, and each time the quarterback didn’t have the arm strength to make the throw.  So, the jury is still out on Dunbar in that regard, but his press game is B+/A- and he’s got the straight line speed to handle any deep routes.

Sometimes he relies too much on his “press and run” game:

He had underneath help from Foster and it was twelve yards to the first down marker.  Just protect the sticks.

But for the game, he showed he can be a legit NFL outside corner; and they can make a good living using the sideline as their help while daring quarterbacks to make the tough throws to the opposite hash.


Last Week’s Predictions

  • Zach Brown has his highest tackle total of the season
    • No.  A big part of that was Hood unable to handle double teams, allowing for guys to get in Brown’s grill quickly.  Also, Brown whiffed on a couple tackles.
  • Galette gets his first solo sack
    • No, and where has he been?  He’s third in the rotation behind Smith and Kerrigan at outside linebacker, and has barely done anything.  He might not be good.
  • Preston Smith acquires 2.5 TFLs

 

What Does It All Mean For Philly?

  • Come back to us, Josh Norman
  • Without Allen, we need a guy to help out Ioannidis.  PFF has sung Ion’s praises all year, and while I agree, I think a lot of his success has come because of Allen.  Who is going to replace that?  McGee isn’t that guy, he’s more of a Tackle-Tight End defender; he doesn’t have the leverage to play over guards and centers.
    • Hood and McClain are the only two options who currently start, and Hood has struggled, leaving McClain as the only one with the ability to scrape Allen’s production.
  • Dunbar is ready to start.  Him and Breeland are a serviceable duo, but once we get down to Moreau and Holsey it starts to get shaky.
  • Nicholson has amazing range, he just needs to see the field better.  Good news: he’s just a rookie, nothing to panic about yet.

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