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49ers vs. Ravens: Scouting San Francisco, Observations On The NFC Championship Game

In this game, San Francisco focused on the run, both on offense and defense.


This is the only San Francisco 49ers game this season that I watched, so not sure if the observations are typical of the 49ers or just an anomaly for this game. San Francisco is built as a run first team (30 rushes versus 20 passing attempts), and emphasizes the run, both offensively and defensively.

San Francisco has a phenomenal run-blocking O-line. Yes, Frank Gore is an outstanding runner- he is a load, he is quick, almost nimble for a guy his size and has great vision. His job is much easier when he is not touched until a yard or two beyond the line of scrimmage. Pass blocking, they can be beat and pressure can be applied.

Scouting the 49ers: Special teams | Offense | Defense

However, applying pressure is a double edged sword. If there is a seam or a gap or contain is lost anywhere, even with everybody covered, Colin Kaepernick will make you pay with his legs. Kaepernick is extremely fast –I am not sure everybody appreciates how fast he truly is. If he gets the corner, he is gone in a flash.

What is most deadly about the 49ers offense is their read-option play-action. Read-option is hard enough because the defense has to stay extremely disciplined and must account for two runners instead of one. When coupled with play-action, it is absolutely deadly as it freezes everybody, negating much of the rush, and potentially exploiting bad coverage play by the defense. San Francisco does not run it a lot, but I would be curious to see just how efficient and good Kaepernick’s passing is off of the read-option play-action.

On defense, San Francisco is all about (stopping) the run. They swarm to the ball –everybody. It is extremely hard for the ball carrier to get started if he is hitting a wall with no holes at the line of scrimmage. San Francisco’s defensive front plays with very good vision- they see where each run is going and they all meet the ball carrier there.

San Francisco, across the offensive line, will line up 4, 5 or 6 defenders up front. Some with a hand in the plastic, others in a two point stance. If it is a rush, they, along with the linebackers, converge on the ball. And I noticed no matter how many were up front- 4, 5 or 6 –each formation was equally effective against the run.

On passing plays, San Francisco will mostly rush four. When they have 5 or 6 lined up front, they do a good job disguising which one(s) drop back into coverage. They will occasionally run a twist or stunt with a fifth defender up front or blitz a linebacker. They seem to achieve a little more success when they blitz a linebacker.

To that end, when San Francisco’s linebackers have to drop into coverage, passes can be completed. In addition, the 49ers’ secondary can be gashed. Not saying the Ravens should pass early and often, but if there is was a weak link in San Francisco’s defense in Atlanta, it was linebackers on crossing and middle/seam routes and the secondary deep. The Ravens will have to establish Pierce and Rice to keep the 49ers honest, but that will be a tall order. But if the Ravens are able to establish any running at all, Pitta should feast on the 1-on-1 linebacker coverage. And Dickson on two TE sets may achieve some success also.

As I mentioned above, pressure can be applied when San Francisco passes. However, the pressure must be uniform- Kaepernick cannot be allowed outside the pocket. Uneven pressure, even pressure the "flushes" Kaepernick will result in a big play –for San Francisco. The 49ers will call their share of roll-outs and boot legs for Kaepernick. These are almost impossible to defend against. However, as long as the defenders keep the play in front of them, and limit the completions to little or no YAC, the defense should be able to survive. And when the defense does get the opportunity, they have got to hit Kaepernick legally. Make him think twice…

This is going to be an extremely difficult game for the Ravens. San Francisco is very solid upfront on both sides of the ball. If the Ravens can stay disciplined on defense and keep San Francisco out of the end zone, and are able to establish even a little run game on offense, to leverage Joe’s passing game, they should be able to defeat the 49ers. San Francisco is a little vulnerable in the middle of the field for passing; Joe seems to be seeing the middle of the field extremely well. He may be able to move the chains through the air in the middle. But if the Ravens sputter on offense, and can’t stop San Francisco’s running game, we have no shot.