Niners need to stick with aggressive tendencies

Are the 49ers a better defense when they're a more aggressive defense? Jim Mora didn't have to think very long about that one. "Sure," the Niners defensive coordinator said. "I think the players feel that way. I think I feel that way." Everybody seems to be feeling that way after the Niners - following three of their worst defensive performances of the season - came up big on defense in last week's victory at Oakland. Expect more of the same today with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town.

The defense that struggled to stop the Seahawks, Saints and Cardinals in successive weeks allowed a season-low 239 yards to a Raiders team that is the NFL's runaway leader in total offense. That's almost 200 yards less than Oakland was averaging per game.

But there was something different about San Francisco on defense against Oakland than the three weeks before.

The Niners went to a more aggressive approach in a secondary that had been experiencing big problems in obvious passing situations. San Francisco unleashed its defensive backs in coverage, playing more one-on-one and man-to-man schemes than at any time previously this season. Of San Francisco's 54 defensive plays against the Raiders, the 49ers were in man coverage on 30 snaps. That's a season-high 56 percent of the time for a defense that had been relying more on two-deep zones to protect the younger players on its coverage units.

The Niners thwarted a prolific Oakland passing game that was on course for record numbers, ending quarterback Rich Gannon's string of an NFL-record six consecutive games with 300 yards or more passing. Gannon threw for a season-low 164 yards, and the 49ers reached midseason with a big confidence boost for their recently beleaguered defense.

Today they'll be facing a Kansas City offense that ranks second in the NFL in passing behind the Raiders, and expect that more man-to-man defense to again be part of the plan to stop the Chiefs.

"When we're really playing well, we're playing with an aggressive attitude," Mora said. "And when you call more mans (coverages), that tends to make you a little more aggressive."

That aggression has helped the entiree defense, giving linemen more time to rush the passer before receivers break open and linebackers more time to filter into their assignments in the passing game. The result is a defense that was more proactive than reactive, an element that seemed to be missing from San Francisco's defense the previous month.

"I like playing man," said outside linebacker Julian Peterson, who often has downfield coverage responsibilities in secondary packages. "Everybody wants to be aggressive. I think a lot of our guys like playing man sometimes, too."

They're not the only ones. If it's working, don't change it. The Niners need to stick with their aggressive tendencies to be the defense they need to be in the second half of the season. And all indications are that they will.

"I'm not saying we're going to just play man all the time," Mora said. "We're not all of a sudden going to become a Buddy Ryan blitz-and-man team. We'll mix it up and just try to keep a good balance. But, obviously, we feel confident in our ability to cover in man-to-man."


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