2010 49ers Pass Defense: Operation Obfuscated Onslaught

Joseph BurkeyAnalyst IJune 9, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 14:  Quarterback Kurt Warner #13 of the Arizona Cardinals fumbles the football after being hit by linebacker Ahmad Brooks #55 of the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on December 14, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The roller coaster of the 2009 49ers' defense went around the track violently last year. There were so many ups and downs, that fans who took the ride really didn't know what to expect from week to week.

Actually, it made some of us pretty sick.

Whether it was getting torched by Aaron Rodgers, a Brett Favre miracle, Donovan McNabb killing us softly, or any one of the other painful performances by the 49ers against quality quarterbacks, SF got pretty high on their highs and real low on their lows.

Many of these passers (and their cast of receivers) were made to look more excellent than they should have by a strapped and tardy pass rush.

In Jonathan Flaucher's "The Dangers of Buying Into Your Own Hype" he refers to numerous weeks and plays where opposing passers simply had "All Day" to sit back, and eventually throw an accurate strike to a target of their choosing.

As Flaucher mentions: seven times a quarterback threw for over 300 yards against the 49ers, and seven times a player racked up over 100 receiving yards.

We limited Peyton Manning to zero touchdowns and pressured him as much as anybody had all year in Week Eight, but Manning threw for over 300 yards, and the game resulted in a 49er loss.

There was often a glimmer of hope or a silver lining to be found for those viewing the world through red and gold colored lenses, but the reality of a playoff-missing 8-8 record—with so many close ones lost—was a tough pill to swallow.

Fast forward to, well, now.

It's June, and restless football fans across the league can be caught channel surfing for anything resembling American Football. 

Stopping by the Food Network because you thought you heard the words "grid-iron" or "pig skin" isn't unheard of—actually, I think they were saying "grilled flat irons" and "pork cracklin's."

Free agency has seen it's big movers and shakers go about their business, and the draft is well over.

And the 49ers have made a couple adjustments in their pressure package potential.

The defensive line returns and retains all the big pieces: relentless Justin Smith, massive Isaac Sapoaga, and franchised creator of chaos Aubrayo Franklin should anchor the staring three-man front.

The line depth behind them includes youngster Ricky Jean Francois, former first-round pick Kentwan Balmer, another young riser in Ray McDonald, and virtual non-factor against the pass Demetric Evans.

Linebacker is where the personnel additions have primarily taken place.

Travis LaBoy, a devastating hitter coming off an ankle injury, signed with San Francisco right before the April draft.

LaBoy, who averages about five sacks a season, brings a rough wallop to blitz packages. The sixth-year player could be a menace in the backfield, as well as open up opportunities for other pass rushers.

A couple days later, the 49ers selected Penn State's Navarro Bowman in the third round. Bowman has been compared physically to Patrick Willis, and although he will play primarily on special teams, could be force for future foes to deal with.

Speaking of Patrick Willis, the incumbent captain on defense was given a five-year, $50 million extension.

It's hard to imagine this would motivate the three-time Pro-Bowler any more than he has always been inclined to play his hardest—every moment—of every down—every game—every season.

Nevertheless, keeping "Bam-Bam" a good message to send to the team, to the division and to the NFL. His average of three sacks a year may end up being bolstered by the improved play of others.

Ahmad Brooks, who had a breakout game against the Bears in Week 10 last season, is just such another.

One of the larger linebackers on the team at 259 pounds, the fourth-year player had only registered two sacks in his career before totaling six last year.

Some of this is attributable to Brooks using his leverage much better now—when he can stay fresh and energetic, he has very good success in limited play.

Manny Lawson, one of the more streamlined linebackers, needs to see his shadow this year. In spite of his commendable six-and-a-half sack total last year, he was a split-of-a-split second late to the quarterback several times last year.

It is for this that it's not unreasonable to expect even more improved numbers from Lawson in 2010.

Parys Haralson, who saw his sack total reach eight in 2008, watched his number drop to five last year. Haralson should still be a beast to deal with as a member front seven that figures to stay fresher than seafood at Fisherman's Wharf.

Twelve-years of NFL experience from middle linebacker Takeo Spikes prove that he's not a big pressure guy.

Over that span, Spikes has averaged 2.29 sacks a year. His total of four last year—his best total since he recorded six in 2001—show signs of fuel left in the tank.

One more prospect who could give quarterbacks hell is the rookie Taylor Mays.

A raw-talent safety, there's projections of trying him at several positions in a pinch.

Amazing speed and incredible strength on a prodigious frame for a defensive back make it possible he could check in as a significant pass rusher at times, although his real position value in the long term waits to be seen.


Other than Justin Smith's average of over six sacks a year, there's not much to expect from the defensive line in terms of sack numbers. They're a different type of unit as far as that goes

The real pressure should come from linebackers, none of whom have recorded a double-digit sack season in their careers. The cumulative total of their unit last year, however, was 25.5—roughly five apiece.

The result is a crew capable of canning quarterbacks from any and all angles.

They're an infantry of assassins. An injury here or there can not—will not—stop the obdurate operation of their obfuscated onslaught.

Without selling out the protection, the pass rush roller coaster should be able to harass passers in the backfield with out that "All day" alarm going off.

And when the ride stops, it'll be the other teams feeling sick.


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