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49ers Film Room: DeForest Buckner to Benefit from Double Wide-9

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San Francisco 49ers wide-9 2019 defense DeForest Buckner
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In this series of 49ers Film Room, we break down the “Wide Nine” technique and its effect on the San Francisco 49ers’ 2019 defense. In Part 2, we review the Niners’ use of wide-9 — and “Double Wide-9” — defensive ends on passing downs and the key role of interior lineman DeForest Buckner.

This is the second installment in our 49ers Film Room series analyzing the wide-9 technique and the defensive changes the San Francisco 49ers plan to implement in 2019. You can check out the first piece from last week, which includes an introduction to the techniques and alignments, here on Lockedon49ers.com.

The changes coming to the 49ers’ defense in 2019 are a direct product of the team’s offseason additions of talented edge rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, as well as defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, who has utilized the scheme extensively in the past. However, the biggest beneficiary of San Francisco’s new wide-9 alignment could be the Niners’ top defender from 2018: defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

In his third season in the league, Buckner established himself as a member of the NFL’s elite, as the former No. 7 overall draft pick led the 49ers with 12 sacks despite rushing from the interior of the defensive line. San Francisco’s 2019 wide-9 alignment should provide the star defensive tackle with the opportunity to build upon his impressive 2018 Pro Bowl season:

San Francisco 49ers DT DeForest Buckner
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Comb Solo Ast TFL QBHits Sfty AV
2016 22 SFO DT 99 15 15 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 6.0 73 43 30 7 18 7
2017 23 SFO DT 99 16 16 0 0 0 0 5 1 0 0 0 0 3.0 61 45 16 5 22 7
2018* 24 SFO DT 99 16 16 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 1 0 0 12.0 67 44 23 17 20 10
Career 47 47 0 0 0 0 9 1 0 3 0 0 21.0 201 132 69 29 60 24

49ers and the Double Wide-9 on Passing Downs

As we recently discussed, during Robert Saleh’s two seasons in San Francisco, the 49ers’ defensive coordinator has frequently used “Ghost Nine” defensive ends to attack opposing quarterbacks on passing downs. Saleh often uses a four-man rush with two wide-9 or ghost-9 technique defensive ends and two modified 3-tech defensive tackles when he’s fairly certain the opposing defense is going to pass the football.

When the 49ers line up in this defensive alignment, Saleh regularly uses a larger defensive tackle — here, DT Sheldon Day — to tie up two offensive linemen, leaving the rest of the linemen in one-on-one situations. On the opposite side, Buckner lines up angled toward the quarterback in a modified 3-technique. Buckner’s positioning is often so wide on these plays, it could potentially be called a “Wide-3” technique:

San Francisco 49ers wide-9 2019 defense DeForest Buckner

With no concern for the necessary gap control that coincides with a potential rushing play, the three defensive linemen in one-on-one matchups can pin their ears back and attack the quarterback. On this crucial fourth-quarter play, defensive end Ronald Blair quickly slips past tackle right tackle Ricky Wagner, but the Lions have bigger problems on the left side of the line, as Buckner makes short work of rookie offensive lineman Frank Ragnow, tossing the guard to the side. The pair of defenders meet in the backfield, on top of quarterback Matthew Stafford:

The 49ers ran a similar play the week prior, as the Minnesota Vikings took the field with 12 personnel, before motioning running back Dalvin Cook out into the slot. With immobile quarterback Kirk Cousins alone in the Vikings’ backfield, San Francisco’s edge rushers were free to focus solely on rushing the quarterback. Here, the 49ers use a “Double Wide-9” defensive front, with both Solomon Thomas and Blair lined up in true wide-9 techniques — well outside the Vikings’ tight ends — with Buckner and defensive tackle D.J. Jones in modified 3-tech or 4i-tech alignments:

San Francisco 49ers wide-9 2019 defense DeForest Buckner

On this play, the 49ers’ pass-rushing assignments are roughly the same; Jones ties up the right guard and the center while looking to knock down any short pass over the middle, which allows each of San Francisco’s remaining defensive linemen to attack Cousins in one-on-one matchups.

Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff is concerned with Buckner, and attempts to slow the Niners’ top defender with a quick punch after the ball is snapped. Unfortunately for left guard Tom Compton, Reiff’s punch does little to stop Buckner, who shows impressive agility for a 300-pound DT as he bends around Compton before bringing Cousins down for the sack:

In 2018, even when the 49ers’ wide-9 defenders had little impact on a passing play, Buckner was consistently able to dominate interior offensive linemen in one-on-one situations. As expected, opposing offensive coordinators were forced to modify their blocking assignments to focus on stopping the 49ers’ star defender, but these strategic changes put the 49ers’ wide-9 pass rushers in even more advantageous situations. Next, we’ll break down how the presence of an elite interior rusher can allow the San Francisco 49ers’ wide-9 defensive ends to feast on opposing quarterbacks.

Chris Wilson is the Lead Writer for Locked on 49ers - part of the Locked On Podcast Network. You may have seen Chris Wilson’s work on NFL game theory, statistical analysis and film breakdowns at FanSided, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, ClutchPoints, Insidethe49 and others. Follow Chris Wilson on Twitter @cgawilson.

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