By PFC Blogger Shakeel Khan
The San Francisco 49ers had trouble with a particular style of team this past season. Of the four losses, three came from teams with a power running game: Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and the St. Louis Rams (let’s not forget about the miserable tie vs. the Rams as well).
The undeniable issue is that two of these teams, the Rams and the Seahawks, are division rivals. It is no secret that the 49ers play their two Pro Bowl safeties, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, two deep majority of the time, relying on their front seven to stop the run. This puts tremendous pressure on Pro Bowl LB’s Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
Granted this tandem is considered to be the best in the National Football League, but Willis is coming into his seventh season and even though he may be the next Ray Lewis, last time I checked longevity isn’t easily attainable. The current scheme that the 49ers have works well, relying heavily on their front seven for stopping the run. But when you face running backs like Marshawn Lynch and Steven Jackson (twice a year), it’s not as effective.
The 49ers have beaten the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees (Patriots, Packers and Saints), so why would they struggle against teams like the Rams, Seahawks and Vikings? The common denominator these top quarterbacks have is that they don’t have power run games, so playing their safeties two deep works well against Brady, Rodgers and Brees.
If San Francisco can bolster their secondary with a shut down corner, this will allow either Whitner or Goldson to play closer to the line of scrimmage and help in the run game, especially against Seattle and St. Louis. Blitz packages can also be inserted within the defensive scheme — something the 49ers were hesitant to do this past season. It’s pretty obvious why Vic Fangio barely put the heat on opposing teams by bringing extra men at the quarterback. San Francisco didn’t want their corners out there on an island against wide receivers, since they feared of getting beat deep. This is a similar problem the 49ers faced in the early 90’s while facing the Dallas Cowboys in multiple NFC Championship games.
Troy Aikman led his Cowboys against a versatile 49er defense, who had a strong front seven but a not so strong secondary (sound familiar?). San Francisco had no answer for wide-outs Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper. Enter the 1993-94 season, there was a name on the roster which everyone knew of. Yes, a shut down corner who helped San Francisco win the Super Bowl by getting over the hump. That name is Deion Sanders. Now that’s “Primetime.”