Nolan simply called it a hybrid defense. But after Nolan's firing, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has tried to provide his players with the answer. The 49ers are now mostly a team that runs a three-man line.
The 49ers figure to play mostly a 3-4 defense when they play host to Brett Favre and the New York Jets on Sunday at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers will be trying to build on an impressive defensive showing in a victory over the Buffalo Bills. The 49ers held the Bills to just three points. The Bills scored 54 points the previous week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
While the 49ers' defense has been very inconsistent this season, Manusky said he wants the players to be able to settle into their roles. He said he wants there to be a lot of carryover from week to week in the game plans.
"From a player's perspective, it's easier on them because they know what to expect when they come into the building each and every Monday," said Manusky, who played 12 NFL seasons before moving into the coaching ranks. "And if you have consistency with little tweaks here and there, that isn't bad.
"But when you make vast changes, it's tough on them. They feel comfortable and stout in what they do. And that's the main defense we play and we run with it."
Manusky is in his second season with the 49ers after spending time as linebackers coach with the San Diego Chargers under coordinator Wade Phillips, who runs a 3-4 defense. Manusky said he has tried to use elements of both defensive minds under whom he has worked.
"I'm trying to take what I learned with Wade Phillips, and the same thing with Mike and combine them together and try to get the best fit for the players we have here," Manusky said. "Sometimes you don't want to stick that round peg in that square hole. You try to fit it to what the players can do and can't do."
And that is why the 49ers have turned more into a 3-4 team, he said. He believes it fits the players the 49ers have on the roster, including outside linebackers Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson. Both players have taken on increased roles on the defense in recent weeks.
"We're getting Manny out there and Parys out there, and for the players on this team, it's the best fit we have."
Manusky gets rave reviews from his players for the job he does in preparing the team. The 49ers have been very good in the red zone. Last week, the 49ers turned away the Bills on all four trips inside the San Francisco 20-yard line.
"I think it's preparation - preparation by coach Greg Manusky," 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "We actually get in two days of red zone work (at practice). His ability to be able to teach us the little nuances. He can tell us what they're going to run, but a lot of people don't tell you why they run it vs. certain stuff. And for him to be able to put is in that position, that's the reason we're going to be effective in the red zone."
Lawson said the most difficult route combination to pick up is when all the receivers are running crossing routes. It takes a lot of preparation to diagnose when it's happening, he said.
"It's really just identifying run-pass reads and run-pass situations," Lawson said. "Whenever it was run, we have to stop the run. And whenever it was pass, getting after the quarterback and make him rush his throws."
The 49ers will face a stiff challenge on Sunday against Favre, whose veteran savvy and free-wheeling nature should provide the 49ers with a challenge in spotting tendencies.
Niners defense becoming more of a true 3-4
Niners Digest Top Stories
2017 Fantasy Football PrimerAre you ready for the 2017 Fantasy Football season? It can't come soon enough, right? This page is a hub where we both want to look forward towards 2017 but also look back at 2016.
Scout FantasyWednesday at 1:26 PM
NFL changes overtime, roster movesThe NFL passed a few resolutions Tuesday at the owners meetings, some of them pretty significant in the way the game and rosters are managed.
Viking UpdateTuesday at 10:25 AM
NFL Draft gradesThe Draft is over and the grades are in. Check out how Rob Rang thinks each team did in this year's NFL Draft.
San Francisco 49ers Select Solomon ThomasIt will be a very short move for the Stanford defensive lineman.