In Week 1 of the 2013 regular season, the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Green Bay Packers. Current Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio held the same position for the 49ers during that game, which resulted in a 34-28 San Francisco victory.
We went to the film room to dissect Fangio’s strategy in defending Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay passing attack. Here’s what we found.
Of the 39 pass plays called by the Packers –37 pass attempts, two sacks – the 49ers ran man coverage 27 times. That’s a 27/12 ratio between man and zone coverage.
Overall, Fangio deployed man 2.25 times more than he called zone. Of the seven 3rd-down passing plays, the 49ers used man-to-man five times. Of the seven red-zone passes, Fangio called man coverage every time.
Obviously Fangio believes man coverage is the way to defend Rodgers, which is a big departure from the zone-heavy schemes of both Lovie Smith and Mel Tucker.
Sporadic but Effective Blitzes
During the Packers’ 39 called passes, the 49ers blitzed just seven times, or 17 percent. Of those seven blitzes, five were called on third down.
Rodgers completed just two passes against Fangio’s blitz packages for a total of nine yards and an interception.
Fangio was selective with his blitzes, deploying them mainly in pure passing situations. The blitzes were sporadic but effective, racking up four QB pressures and allowing less than 10 total yards.
Let’s use All-22 film to analyze four of those seven blitzes (plays in which the 49ers rushed five or more defenders).
Here is a five-man rush with RDE Justin Smith (red) stunting inside behind the nose tackle and blitzing linebacker.
Willis (white) is ripped to the ground on a blatant hold and is taken out of the play. The inside rush of Smith (red) forces the center to leave his block of McDonald, who now has his eye on Rodgers.
McDonald has a clear path to the quarterback and forces a quick pass that falls incomplete.
Analysis: This a two-man clear with a delayed inside stunt. The motion of the criss-crossing defenders confuses the left side of the offensive line – at one point, the left guard gets spun around 360 degrees – which sets free McDonald.
This will be man-to-man defense disguised to look like a zone blitz. It actually did not officially count as a blitz, as it results in just four defenders rushing the passer. LOLB Aldon Smith (white) will drop into shallow coverage.
Here we see just four pass rushers and Smith dropping into his zone. The hot read here is the tight end, yet Smith’s drop, as well as the presence of Willis inside, forces Rodgers to work through his progression.
Notice the yellow circles, which denote man coverage across the board, with a single high safety. Smith (white) is the rover underneath.
Analysis: This play develops as if it were a zone blitz, with an overload off the left side and the OLB dropping into the underneath zone. Yet the 49ers man up, using Smith to eliminate the hot route.
This is a man-to-man blitz similar to the last play, yet with one slight difference concerning OLB Ahmad Brooks (yellow) lined up on the right edge.
Here we see Aldon Smith (red) and NaVorro Bowman blitzing off the left side. Brooks looks as if he’s dropping into coverage, yet he’s really chucking the tight end, which allows Willis (white) time to close the gap. Smith is turning the corner on the left tackle.
Smith beats the single block and nearly knocks the ball out of Rodgers’ hand. Notice Brooks, who passed off the tight end, is now rushing the passer, which is equivalent to a delayed blitz.
Analysis: The Bears rarely disrupt opposing tight ends at the line of scrimmage. That will change under Fangio, who doesn’t ask his defensive ends and outside linebackers to fly up the field on every snap. The blitz on the backside creates a single block for Smith, which he beats easily. This play results in a 49ers interception.
Our final blitz is an overload, with the nose tackle, defensive end, linebacker and slot corner flooding the right side. This leaves a wide-open area down the right hash for TE Jermichael Finley (blue). The key on this play is Patrick Willis (red), who will sprint from play-side to cover the tight end.
The 49ers have numbers on the right side and a sack is imminent. Rodgers sees this and quickly fires the pass to his hot read, Finley (blue). Notice Willis (red) sprinting across the field.
Willis closes the gap and undercuts the pass, which nearly results in a pick-six.
Analysis: This play is completely reliant on the speed of Willis, who ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the 2007 combine. Without a linebacker who can reach the tight end from the far hash, all in under two seconds, this play results in a big gain for the Packers. Yet with Willis, Fangio is comfortable overloading the right side and it nearly results in six points for the 49ers.
Fangio vs. RodgersIn four career games against Fangio, Rodgers has a 96.0 passer rating, which is 10 points less than his career 106.0 rating.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.