Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks-49ers, Pt. 1

In a preview of this weeks's Seattle Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers game, Brian McIntyre chats with David Pucillo of Niners Nation, the San Francisco 49ers blog on the SBNation network. In part one, Pucillo answers questions about Patrick Willis, the 49ers offensive philosophy and where 49ers fans stand on Michael Crabtree.

Brian McIntyre: The 49ers' pass rush looked much improved over last season during last week's win at Arizona. What have they done over the off-season to improve the pass rush?

Pucillo: There wasn't a lot of change in personnel, but it seems like the way they're being utilized made a big difference in week 1. Under Nolan the team utilized an assortment of defenses that required players to play different positions and never get to settle in on one task. Justin Smith played 6 of the 7 front seven positions under Nolan. Manny Lawson spent all his time dropping back into coverage.

Under Singletary the team has gone with a straight 3-4, and then the 4 down linemen nickel defense on passing downs, so some continuity helps. Also, the team has Manny Lawson concentrating on pass rushing, instead of doing a lot of coverage. This has been especially useful because he's one year further removed from his second year ACL tear.

One thing to keep in mind is that part of the blame (not sure how much) falls on the Arizona Cardinals. I'm very curious to see if the pass rush is just as potent in week 2, or has a fall-off.

McIntyre: Losing Walt Harris was a big blow, but how did Shawntae Spencer win the starting job opposite Nate Clements over Dre Bly?

Pucillo: It sounds like he won the job because he was a consistent presence in the preseason and didn't make many mistakes. Dre Bly is an aggressive option, which means he is also prone to big, glaring mistakes. Additionally, Spencer has a better knowledge of the playbook, which had to be of some help. I'm curious how much of it was simply the motivation of coming back from a torn ACL. It surprised most of us as much as everybody else.

McIntyre: He's already right there, but what does Patrick Willis need to improve upon to be the best middle/inside linebacker in the NFL?

Pucillo: As much as I love "Bamm Bamm" (the nickname bestowed by Chad Ochocinco), he can certainly improve. The primary area that I see is in over-pursuit. He is an aggressive tackler and can easily over-pursue a ball carrier. The good news at this point is that his athleticism allows him to recover fairly quickly. He wasn't great in pass coverage when he came into the league, but he's shown a lot of improvement in that as well.

In the end, I think any improvements needed are simply a matter of experiencing the various unique experiences that occur on any given play. He's only going to improve with experience, which is a very scary proposition.

McIntyre: What is Jimmy Raye's offensive philosophy, and do the 49ers have the depth to be successfully if #21 were to miss a stretch of games?

Pucillo: Jimmy Raye has decided that passing is for losers and chicks dig the ground game. Ok, maybe that's not entirely true. But Raye definitely had no problem running the proverbial 3 plays and a cloud of dust. It was rather frustrating at times because the team would run for 2 yards, run for 1 yard, then Hill would throw an incompletion and they'd punt. Then, in the 4th quarter, down 3, Shaun Hill was given the opportunity to throw significantly more and he showed success, leading the team to the winning touchdown. So clearly there is some semblance of a passing game in there.

In the preseason, Raye talked about wanting a 60/40 run pass ratio, which would put the 49ers in a small minority. The 49ers rushing attack was just about useless this past Sunday so it would seem like they need to mix it up a little more. Yes, they won the game, but they can't do this for 16 games and be successful over the long haul.

Based on the Arizona game, the 49ers could roll me out at running back and it wouldn't appear to make much difference. But seriously, Gore will get his numbers over the season. Glen Coffee, his primary backup, had a very solid preseason, but as a rookie it's hard to judge much from that. This week will hopefully give 49ers fans a better idea of where the running game really is.

McIntyre: Have 49ers fans soured on Michael Crabtree, or will all be forgiven once ink meets paper?

Pucillo: For many it's become out of sight, out of mind. I personally have tried to ignore somewhat all the news pouring in because none of it is coming directly from him or the team. A lot of people are pissed at him, but if he signed I think most "haters" would move past it, particularly if he shows some early success.

The problem for me is all the playing time he has missed. Even if he signed today, it's hard to know how much he could really provide on the field. Due to his broken foot he hasn't done anything football-specific, aside from catching balls, since his bowl game. That's not all that inspiring.

McIntyre: While most of the attention gets paid to his banishment of Vernon Davis and pulling down his pants in the locker room, what are some of the other, less-publicized ways Mike Singletary has changed the attitude within the 49ers organization?

Pucillo: Ironically enough, while those two incidents you mentioned were the most publicized, I think other things have made a bigger impact on the team and the organization. The Vernon Davis banishment is big because since then Davis has been Singletary's biggest fan. Vernon gets a bad rap and I think he's a guy who just needed a kick in the butt and needs a little discipline in his life.

In the preseason, Singletary ran all padded practices (with a couple non pad days). It's possible the 49ers will be worn down at the end of the season, but early on I think they have an advantage of being more in game-shape than other teams. It's entirely possible that was a big plus to beating Arizona. I can't tell for sure, but I don't think it hurt.

It's easy to pigeon-hole Mike Singletary as a cliche machine who just brings the rah-rah style that wears folks down. However, I think Singletary has a unique take on this that has been the reason for change in the 49ers attitude. A lot of times the person spewing the rah-rah garbage is a coach who either has no playing experience, or was never a high profile player. Singletary is a Hall of Famer though, and has done more in his career than anybody on the 49ers. Accordingly, the players realize he's not BS'ing them and I think are willing to accept Singletary's tough style. I'm really curious to see how this plays out later in the season.

For more on the 49ers, and more from David Pucillo, please visit Niners Nation.

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