Consider Monday night’s game against the Steelers to be San Francisco’s end-of-semester test, one whose outcome will have a great deal of impact on the final grade. For this game brings front and center a subject in which the 49ers have struggled, and it’s taught by Dr. Blitz.
He’s better known as Dick LeBeau, the long-time defensive coordinator of the Steelers. LeBeau’s belief in the flexibility of the 3-4 defense built around fast, active, mean linebackers has been a foundation of Steelers football since the mid-1980s.
LeBeau is a big believer in creating confusion, and few things create confusion for an offense than not being sure whence the pass rushers come. What’s more, many offenses see blitz and click off to automatic “hot” reads or throws, which are usually short and quick passes to spots.
That’s what makes the Zone Blitz so dangerous; sometimes that hot throw is where a defensive lineman drops back into coverage, unbeknownst to the quarterback. Voila, interception.
The Steelers are gelling defensively; they’ve given up 19 points in their last three games, including a crucial win over Cincinnati. But then, wins over Cleveland and Kansas City have to be said as to mean not all that much.
It’s a crucial game for the 49ers in that a victory will help propel them to a No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Being No. 2 means having a week off and playing at home.
Finishing as the third seed, which may not seem like much, will mean a home game on the second week of January, and then most likely a road trip to New Orleans, a place to be avoided right now at all costs.
That’s why Monday night’s game will be a huge test, one in which we should learn the following five things.