The right side of the San Francisco offensive line has been a sore spot all season, so that's where we'll begin our breakdowns. We should also have an elite matchup in Dwight Freeney vs. Joe Staley. That should be fun to watch as one of the best pass rushers in the league goes up against an up-and-coming top left tackle.
J.J. Cooper over at Fanhouse does not mince words when breaking down the inconsistent play at right tackle for the 49ers: "When San Francisco right tackle Adam Snyder gave up five sacks in the first two weeks of the season, the 49ers were glad they had a Plan B," Cooper writes. "Former Jaguars tackle Tony Pashos stepped in to replace Snyder and provided mediocre pass blocking. He wasn't good, but he wasn't nearly as bad as Snyder either — giving up three sacks in five games. For a team with a very leaky right side of the offensive line, that was actually an improvement. But Pashos is now done for the season with a broken shoulder blade, which means that Snyder is back at right tackle."
Coming into last week the 49ers ranked 29th in the NFL in sacks allowed per play. Then-starting quarterback Shaun Hill had been sacked on 10.6 percent of his pass plays. Those are some pretty ominous statistics. Snyder is back at right tackle and knows he faces quite a challenge this week."I think Robert Mathis presents the same challenge that Freeney does," right tackle Adam Snyder told The Mercury News. "They're both fast, and they're both aggressive."
Guard is Snyder's natural position. His overall athletic ability is mediocre at best, especially for a tackle. A pass rusher with the speed skills of a Robert Mathis will give him fits all afternoon. When a defender gets a step on him, he'll struggle to recover or adjust.
The key for him against Mathis will be to lock on quickly. His good upper strength and strong hands allow him to steer and control if he can get locked. With five sacks and eleven quarterback pressures, Robert Mathis has been stellar again this season. His athleticism, speed from the edge, and his dip and bend move when engaged should be problematic for the sometimes stiff Snyder.
Mathis is also being helped by the overall aggressiveness of his defensive coordinator. "He's [Larry Coyer] taking advantage of the Colts' speed and versatility with more aggressive schemes," . "The combination of blitzes and pressure has given Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis more one-on-one matchups."
This should be a good matchup for Indianapolis. San Francisco knows that and will likely dial up a lot of short, three-step drops that allow Alex Smith to get the ball out of his hands quickly. Plus, I'd expect Snyder to receive frequent help from a tight end or the right guard.
It has been a tough season so far for 49ers OG Chilo Rachal. "Rachal has struggled badly this season," ESPN's Mike Santo notes. "Coach Mike Singletary suggested Rachal might benefit from playing a little looser instead of worrying about making mistakes. It's tough to stop worrying about making mistakes when everyone keeps talking about those mistakes."Singletary even went as far to say Rachal can be fooled by particular stunts. "Singletary said Monday that Rachal needs "help" because "one particular stunt" gives him trouble on pass blocking," according to the Mercury News. In their review of last week's game at Houston, the San Francisco Chronicle breaks down some of Rachal's struggles: "Second-year right guard Chilo Rachal gave up a sack when he couldn't keep 39-year-old Jeff Zgonina from busting up the middle to nail Hill. Though strong and athletic, Rachal is a liability in pass protection."
An array of interior defensive tackles will line up across from Rachal on Sunday. Who amongst them is best suited to take advantage of this "liability in pass protection"? After being held without a sack last season, Eric Foster spent the entire off-season honing his interior pass rush moves.
"Right now, I'm focusing on basically finishing — basically pass rush. I have to get after the quarterback, finish my moves. I'm looking at every sack reel of inside guys around the whole league. I just want to see what moves are more beneficial to the inside guys. I just really broke down film a lot.
Foster's sack numbers are not earth-shattering with just a half-sack in six games. He was credited with four QB pressures at Arizona in Week 3, has two passes defensed, and was in on a sack last week. Foster is doing a nice job getting penetration and shows the kind of first step quickness that can give Rachal problems.
That ability to get penetration and disrupt the backfield has also been key for Foster against the run. He also sheds and moves well laterally so he's not out of the play even if the run is away from him.
LT Joe Staley vs. RE Dwight Freeney (passing situations):
In terms of OT matchups this week, the 49ers trust their left tackle in one-on-one situations against Dwight Freeney more than they do their right tackle against Mathis. Staley is a converted tight end, who has the athleticism and foot quickness to match speedy edge rushers. So while Staley may have some luck neutralizing Freeney's speed off the edge, that's not even half the battle.
In his press call with the Bay Area media, Freeney was asked if his patented spin move makes him predictable. Freeney replied by comparing the move to a Randy Johnson fastball. "Just because you know it's coming, doesn't mean you can stop it," he said.
What are some of those other pitches that Staley will need to prepare for on Sunday? The edge rush, speed rushes, bull rushes, bull swim, bull rip, chop rip, slap-chop-rip, slap-chop-rip-swim, loop to the interior or inside shoulder or some variation and combinations of all the above Freeney does them all well.
He will go around you, through you and even when you think you've got him with sound hand placement, he'll can use a swim, rip or chop to re-seize the advantage. He does it all in a blink of the eye.
During an interview with Boston radio station WEEI last week Tom Brady was asked: "'Who is the most intimidating player you face?' 'Dwight Freeney,' New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady replied. 'Every play with him is a game-changing play. Every time you throw the ball, (Freeney is) a factor. As a quarterback, you probably have anywhere from a second and a half to sometimes four seconds to make your decision and throw the ball. With Freeney, it's probably consistently around two seconds with sometimes being from the time the ball is snapped, a second and a half, you've got to throw that ball. There's no time for decision-making. You're making your decision before the ball is snapped based on the coverage.'"
Freeney has a sack in seven straight games and is one short of the club record. If Staley is to prevent him from attaining that record, he must use his athleticism to react quickly to Freeney's counter and change-of-direction moves.
Staley signed a $42 million dollar six year contract extension on top of his rookie contract this offseason that will keep him with the 49ers through the 2017 season, so that tells you just how highly the 49ers think of their left tackle. He'll get one of the biggest tests of his young career Sunday.
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