49ers Victory in the Spotlight or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Defense
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
I want a quarterback like Baker Mayfield running around a pocket for 60 minutes.
Mayfield wants to make that lunch recess-type throw, so he’ll be on the evening highlight reel.
Vanity has its price and will prove to be Mayfield’s downfall against the 49ers’ defense.
It is a rare thing for me to get exactly what I want for Christmas. Sure, there was that one year I got a Castle Greyskull and the talking Knight Rider car, but I was five years old, and I could count on Santa Claus.
I’m talking gifts like we received from the San Francisco 49ers in their Week 5 domination of the lowly Cleveland Browns. The hopes and grass-stained fantasies we have during the week leading up to an NFL Sunday are rarely fulfilled.
Monday night, however, we had our stockings chockfull of wonder.
Before looking at the film, I wanted to give a general reaction to what I saw during the game, rather than a technical breakdown of the little nuances that happen in slow-motion.
The Need for Aggression
I’ve noted before that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh didn’t have the pieces and parts with previous rosters to fully execute the defensive scheme. All the talk of gas pedals, high motors, and intensity mean nothing without an aggression-fueled starting defense.
Real, focused aggression is metallic hydrogen sitting calmly next to a pyromaniac with a flamethrower. Once the defense lights the fuel, it explodes into the offense and special teams. The home crowd dances and laps at the intense heat, ignoring the calls for water and begging for me.
And until last night, I think everyone in Levi’s Stadium forgot how long they’d been deprived of this feeling.
The 49ers’ defense wanted to control the game from the start. Someone within the cement walls of 4949 Centennial Boulevard decided they’d heard enough about the Browns’ potential. With the nation watching, the time had come to expose quarterback Baker Mayfield as a charlatan. Saleh and rookie Nick Bosa would lead the charge.
In an interview with the Harvard Business Review in 1993, the late Bill Walsh said:
“Some people are naturally quicker physically. But to win, you need to be quicker as a team. You must beat your opposition to the punch every time.
Physical strength and speed are important advantages, but even more advantageous is having the training that permits you to respond intelligently to whatever confronts you. That means more precision, better execution, and quicker response than your opponents.”
The 49ers’ defensive line wasn’t just beating Cleveland to the punch. At the snap, the front four already executed the line stunt and were chasing quarterback Baker Mayfield out of the pocket.
Lost among the sacks and statistics from Monday night were the 12 snaps from third-year defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Through four games, Thomas has only seen the field for 67 plays. I am in no position to print lies and start a controversy, but I wonder if Saleh has his defensive front dialed in, and Thomas adds nothing to the mix.
A Slightly Unbalanced Offense
The 49ers offensive game plan certainly felt extremely run-heavy, with Garoppolo handing the ball to a back 40 times. Garoppolo did attempt 29 passes and connected on 20 for 181 yards and two scores.
The lack of a big pass downfield gave the 49ers’ game plan a very run-heavy feel. Keep in mind Garoppolo’s yards per pass attempt was only 6.24, and his longest completion was 22 yards.
The strategy worked. Unfortunately, we probably won’t hear what Shanahan saw in film study that allowed him to send his backs in any direction and chew up the turf.
But don’t take a heavy run attack as a slight to Garoppolo, and ignore the Monday Night Football crew’s comments that Garoppolo didn’t play a good football game. Indeed, he missed on a few throws. If we’re going to nitpick nine incompletions after a lopsided victory, then I believe we all need to find a new hobby.
The Hunger Games
The 49ers have been the NFL’s bottom feeders since 2015, going through trials of torn knee ligaments, piecemeal rosters, and a still undetermined flatus at a press conference.
Four years is not a long time, but it created a real hunger among the men who had to survive all the nonsense. It forced them to feed on poison for so long; they had no idea it was killing them. Through this, these men learned to make weapons from imperfections. This year, when a play or a series does go wrong, it’s rare to see the 49ers point fingers at one another.
No, these men regroup. They finish the series and come back with the errors behind them.
There are stark differences between an 0-4 team and a 4-0 team. Being hungry for a win isn’t hunger. It’s a want not to be embarrassed.
Being 4-0, after four years of hell, comes from a burning desire to not want to be kicked around anymore. You can see it on each play, offense or defense, and you could hear it from the fans at the game.
I’ve longed for a 49er game like what we saw on Monday night, and I hope this year’s team has a few more of these for us down the road.
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