Niners better bringing blitz

The 49ers blitz and blitz and blitz - and then they back off. San Francisco has the NFL's second-ranked defense mainly because it has confounded opponents with a new blitzing strategy, which the Niners have employed often - but not when it counted at the end of their two losses. What adjustments need to be made? "I don't know how to answer that right," LB Jeff Ulbrich said. "I'm going to stay away from that one." Said LB Derek Smith, "Ask Jim Mora, he's the coordinator." So we did.

Mora has been taking some heat this week for a specific reason: The Niners' defense has dominated the opposition for more than nine of the 12 quarters the team has played this season - but the Niners only have one win in three games to show for it. Despite its No. 2 ranking in total defense, San Francisco's unit currently is being judged by what happened after halftime against St. Louis on Sept. 14 and in the fourth quarter against Cleveland last week

The 49ers surrendered a halftime lead and lost in overtime at St. Louis after limiting the Rams to 67 first-half yards. Then they relinquished a 12-point lead entering the final period in a 13-12 upset loss to Cleveland. The Browns had just 113 yards going into the fourth quarter, but they engineered two long touchdown drives to pull out the stunning victory against a defense that wasn't as aggressive as it had been while shutting out Cleveland for three quarters.

Mora said he called four or five blitzes on Cleveland's 17-play, 91-yard, game-winning drive in the final six minutes after blitzing nearly 50 percent of the plays throughout the game. The Browns converted on five-of-five third-down opportunities on the drive, picking apart San Francisco much the way the Rams had done one week earlier.

Mora said he didn't continue to blitz regularly because the Rams and Browns both held in extra players to block. The Niners, with several cornerbacks injured, didn't want to expose their secondary to extra risk.

But with the Niners facing a crucial game this week against the 3-0 Vikings in Minnesota, More knows San Francisco's defense can't afford to get it wrong in crunch time again.

"We just have to keep trying to be creative in ways to get there if they're maxing it up (in protection)," Mora said. "But what we have to do as a defense is really just make plays. We just have to play things a little bit better and I have to give them a little bit better calls at times. It's really, collectively, not about blitzing and calls. It's about doing everything a little bit better."

The Niners have been doing some things better than anybody in the league, yet it hasn't been paying off in victories. The 49ers lead the NFL with 13 sacks - one of eight categories San Francisco's defense ranks among the league's top five.

Smith - San Francisco's leading tackler - leads the Niners with 2.5 sacks from his middle linebacker position. The Niners also have received two sacks each from linebackers Julian Peterson and Jamie Winborn.

Those sacks have come on blitzes, which have become one of San Francisco's most effective defensive devices. But the Niners have turned passive with the game on the line.

"There's a time and place for it," Ulbrich said. "Obviously, a team can adjust to you and start picking up your blitzes. You have to pick your spots. We just have to clean it up, tighten the coverage up, play defense better. It's not necessarily the call. Players have to go out there and execute."

Said Smith, "We have to be able to finish a game. For us, more than anything, we just need to take care of our own shop. When we do things like we can do as a defense, then I don't think we need to worry about who we're facing."

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