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49ers Film Room: The Wide-9 in San Francisco’s 2019 defense

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49ers Nick Bosa wide 9 technique 2019 defense
© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In our latest series of 49ers Film Room, we break down the “Wide Nine” technique and its effect on the San Francisco 49ers’ 2019 defense, including how Nick Bosa and Dee Ford fit into the Niners’ new scheme.

We begin our 49ers Film Room series on the wide-9 technique by reviewing the basics of the defensive alignment, and identifying when 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has utilized the “Wide Nine” on early downs during his first two seasons in San Francisco.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: After another disappointing season on the defensive side of the ball, the San Francisco 49ers are making significant changes to their defensive scheme this offseason. Many of these changes stem from new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek‘s preferred use of the “Wide Nine” which has quickly become the hottest — and perhaps least understood — football buzzword for football fans in the Bay Area.

The Wide-9 Technique

If you don’t know what a “Wide Nine” defense is, you’re not alone. As opposed to a specific type of defense, “Wide Nine” simply refers to the wide-9 technique, or the far-outside alignment, of one or both of a team’s edge rushers.

When a defensive end or outside linebacker lines up in a standard 9-technique, he lines up across from the tight end’s outside shoulder. In the “Wide Nine,” the edge defender lines up wider than a normal 9-tech, outside of the tight end’s direct field of vision, and at an angle facing the quarterback. If there’s no tight end on the line of scrimmage, the EDGE lines up in a similar fashion with respect to the offensive tackle. This is also referred to as a “Ghost Nine” technique, and is utilized by many NFL defenses — including the 49ers — on obvious passing downs. However, during his time as the defensive line coach in Detroit and Miami, Kocurek used the technique in a wide variety of situations:

San Francisco 49ers wide 9 2019 defense

49ers and the Wide-9 on Early Downs

Throughout his two seasons as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator, Saleh’s has frequently used “Ghost Nine” defensive ends to attack the quarterback on passing downs. Saleh also utilizes “Ghost Nine” or “Wide Nine” edge rushers in many of his five-man fronts, but it is extremely uncommon for the 49ers to use wide-9 defensive ends in four-man fronts on early downs — but that is about to change in 2019. One of these rare situations is when an opposing offense lines up with 12 personnel in an Ace formation:

49ers Wide 9 2019 defense

With two tight ends on the field, the Detroit Lions’ offense has eight holes along the offensive line for running back Kerryon Johnson to potentially attack, so the 49ers have eight gaps to fill. Defensive end Solomon Thomas lines up in a 6-technique to control the C-gap and to slow a potential release from now-49ers tight end Levine Toilolo, as strong safety Jaquiski Tartt drops down to handle the D-gap. On the opposite side, 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead lines up in a wide-9 across from Lions tight end Michael Roberts. This allows SAM linebacker Mark Nzeocha to slide inside into an improved position to fill the C-gap or pursue a run from the backside, while maintaining the ability to cover the slower Roberts if the Lions pass the football:

49ers Wide 9 2019 defense

The Lions motion wide receiver Marvin Jones toward the formation as the ball is snapped on this inside zone run, but by the time the wideout can make contact with Tartt, Toilolo, who receives no assistance from right tackle Taylor Decker, is tossed to the side by Thomas. Thomas knifes in to make the play in the backfield but can’t bring down Johnson, who is quickly cleaned up by Nzeocha and fellow linebacker Fred Warner:

The 49ers have demonstrated the ability to stop the run while utilizing wide-9 defensive ends, as long as San Francisco has the proper numbers in the box. This should be no surprise, since the “Wide Nine” is far from a new defensive alignment. In fact, the wide-9 technique — originally called the 8-technique, like in the diagram below — can be found in old playbooks of the Miami Hurricanes, where the Miami 4-3 over defense was first developed:

49ers Wide 9 2019 defense

The wide-9 technique certainly has its drawbacks, particularly in the running game. But before we address the negatives, we’ll discuss the advantages this wide alignment affords defenses in the passing game — particularly with the 49ers’ recent additions of edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford — as well as the bevy of changes Saleh will be forced to make to his defensive scheme as a result of Kocurek’s hiring. Check back tomorrow as we break down how an interior lineman — defensive tackle DeForest Buckner — could be the biggest beneficiary of the San Francisco 49ers’ new defensive alignment.

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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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: Weekly Wink, Trade Rumors

Brian Peacock

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  • Guest: Nick Winkler
  • Jalen Ramsey trade rumors intensify
  • Is it worth spending on offensive tackle Trent Williams?
  • Could young star safety Jamal Adams hit the trade market?
  • 49ers primed for a 3-0 start

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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: 49ers-Steelers Crossover

Brian Peacock

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© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
  • Guests: Tony Serino and Christopher Carter of Locked On Steelers
  • What to expect from second-year QB Mason Rudolph, who is starting in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger
  • How new Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick fits in
  • Predictions

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San Francisco 49ers

49ers vs. Bengals: San Francisco Week 2 Game Balls & Highlights

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49ers Bengals Week 2 Game Balls Highlights
© Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

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:

 

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:

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:

 

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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