In light of the San Francisco 49ers finishing 24th in pass defense last year, thanks in part to a secondary that regularly gave up big plays, improvement in this area is a crucial element for success in 2011.
But it has to be said that perhaps no part of pro football is more misunderstood than secondary play. It may not look like that is the case from the stands. The players are easy to identify because they play in space and are often involved in one-on-one situations.
Only a few—coaches and players—know what the defense had planned to do on any play. Pass coverages, blitz schemes and different “packages” of five and six defensive backs are all designed to attack certain elements of the offense. More to the point the defense often tries to disguise its intent.
Coverages like “man-under” and bracketing (where two defenders take sides of a particular player) are intended to take away one player or even a certain side of the field.
To the fan in the stands, and even to color commentators, these coverages can give the appearance of someone failing on coverage when it wasn’t that player’s duty.
Example: A cornerback is pressing a wideout in “man-under” with his teammate at safety tasked with taking away anything deep or “over the top.” The cornerback does his job, trailing the receiver to take away the break-off moves. But if the receiver keeps running downfield and the safety fails to adjust, it can look like the cornerback let the receiver go for an easy touchdown. In fact, it was the safety’s fault.
Such are the complexities of secondary play; not all is what it looks like. Here are five predictions for the 49er secondary in 2011.