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:
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:
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:
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.
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49ers vs. Bengals: San Francisco Week 2 Game Balls & Highlights
Game balls and highlights from the San Francisco 49ers’ 41-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 of the 2019 NFL regular season.
On yesterday’s Locked On 49ers Podcast, host Brian Peacock provided a rundown of the Niners’ game — including game notes and key takeaways — and handed out four game balls to the San Francisco 49ers from their Week 2 blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The 49ers made a statement to the rest of the league during their second consecutive road victory to start the 2019 NFL regular season. Outside of a long garbage-time touchdown given up in the final minute of the matchup, the 49ers’ defense was dominant, finishing the game with four sacks, nine tackles-for-loss and one interception.
But despite holding the Bengals to just 25 yards on 19 rushing attempts, San Francisco’s offensive unit shined the brightest in Week 2 — which brings us to our first game ball:
49ers HC Kyle Shanahan
San Francisco’s offensive attack was nearly unstoppable in Week 2, and much of their success should be credited to 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who called one of his best games since arriving in the Bay Area over two seasons ago. The Niners tallied 572 net yards on offense at an 8.4 yards-per-play clip, and were forced to punt the ball just once during meaningful play, prior to the final two minutes of the game.
Shanahan — the 49ers’ de facto offensive coordinator — was always one step ahead of the Bengals’ defense, which was constantly confused by the Niners’ flurry of misdirection plays. With Cincinnati’s defenders forced to play both passively and reactionary, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took advantage by throwing for 297 passing yards and three scores. Garoppolo executed on the field, but he had Shanahan’s superb game plan to thank for his FexEx Air Passer of the Week nomination, as well as his 131.2 passer rating and his 11.9 yards-per-pass-attempt — both of which were tops in the NFL in Week 2.
49ers RB Matt Breida
Prior to the beginning of the regular season, many analysts wrote 49ers running back Matt Breida off as either a potential change-of-pace option in San Francisco’s backfield or a player who would simply ride the bench in 2019. But just two games into the season, Breida has officially put that talk to rest by claiming his well-deserved spot at the top of the 49ers’ running back depth chart, even after fellow RB Tevin Coleman eventually returns from injury.
Breida was electric on Sunday as he tallied 121 rushing yards on only 12 carries, and added 11 yards through the air on one reception. The former undrafted free agent may never be a 25-carry feature back, but it’s hard to ignore a runner who averages over 10 yards-per-touch. Breida’s outstanding Week 2 performance was highlighted by a 34-yard gain on a third-and-short run, where he looked a lot more like Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders than a bench player who should be relegated to the sidelines:
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) September 16, 2019
49ers Offensive Line
Although Breida has the speed and agility necessary to break off long runs after making defenders miss, he surely didn’t mind running through some of the gaping holes the 49ers’ offensive line provided on Sunday. Breida wasn’t the only beneficiary of San Francisco’s big men up front, as the 49ers’ trio of running backs graded out as the NFL’s top unit of the week by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Recent practice-squad RB Jeff Wilson found the end zone for a pair of scores in the contest, and dual-threat running back Raheem Mostert followed his blockers on long runs and screen passes en route to a spot on PFF’s “NFL Team of the Week” for Week 2:
#49ers RB Raheem Mostert @RMos_8Ball, LB Kwon Alexander @kwon and EDGE Ronald Blair @superblair are all featured in @PFF‘s NFL Team of the Week. The @49ers‘ running backs also graded out as the #NFL‘s top group of RBs in Week 2. https://t.co/zbfzmMtEs0
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) September 18, 2019
It was a near-perfect day for the Niners’ offensive line, as they also kept Garoppolo’s jersey clean for the vast majority of the game. But a dark cloud fell over the group in the third quarter of the team’s Week 2 victory, when left tackle Joe Staley sustained a fractured left fibula which will keep the 49ers’ top lineman out of action for approximately six to eight weeks.
49ers LB Kwon Alexander
Last week, linebacker Kwon Alexander received a game ball from Shanahan in the 49ers’ locker room after the team’s 31-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite his early exit from his Niners debut. Alexander was ejected from the contest when his helmet made contact with the helmet of former teammate Jameis Winston, when the quarterback awkwardly went to the ground at the end of a third-down scramble. In the limited time prior to his questionable ejection, Alexander looked like the player Shanahan and general manager John Lynch hoped to sign, as the 25-year-old linebacker flew around the field making plays and hyping up his teammates.
Last Sunday, Alexander earned his 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room and his passion for the game. This Sunday, Alexander earned Locked On 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room, his passion for the game and his production on the field. Alexander not only brought the same level of intensity to Cincinnati, but the linebacker was also one of the best — and most productive — players on the field in Week 2. With a key interception, three defended passes and six tackles, Alexander earned PFF “NFL Team of the Week” honors, and our final game ball of the week:
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) September 16, 2019
Listen to Locked On 49ers host Brian Peacock’s review of the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 2 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals — including game notes and key takeaways from the Niners’ second matchup of the 2019 NFL regular season — on yesterday’s Rapid React podcast:
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