The 49ers defense will dial up some pressure when the ball is deep in the red zone. Think of Cover-0 schemes (man coverage with no safety help) versus Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Saturday night in San Francisco for their NFC divisional playoff game.
As shown here, the Packers have their Posse personnel (three wide receivers, one tight end, one running back) on the field in a Doubles Slot formation (3x1 set). The 49ers counter with their nickel sub package (five defensive backs), sending free safety pressure to the open (weak) side of the formation. The Packers will look to target tight end Jermichael Finley on a quick double-move in the middle of the field or hit the backside slant.
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The 49ers are bringing 6-Man pressure. Before the snap, free safety Dashon Goldson (FS) will stem to a blitz alignment and hit the open side B gap with linebacker NaVorro Bowman (IB) blitzing the closed side A gap. In the secondary, the defensive backs are coached to play with an inside alignment (inside eye), mirror the release of the receivers and challenge the hot reads from Rodgers. With no safety help in the middle of the field, the 49ers have to take away inside breaking routes and play for the ball to come out.
Show Tare route
The Tare route is the top three-step concept out of a 3x1 alignment in the NFL. The idea is to clear out the edge of the coverage with a 9 (fade) route and work the inside flat and stick combination. The Packers will send Jordy Nelson (Z) on the fade with Randall Cobb (H) bursting to the flat. However, instead of running Finley (Y) on the expected stick route (quick out route), the Packers are setting the bait for strong safety Donte Whitner on the double-move (Nod).
Finley versus Whitner
Whitner has solid footwork, lateral ability and is physical enough with his hands to match up with the size and length of Finley in zero coverage. At the snap, Finley will take a short stem up the field, work to the out cut and then break back to the middle of the field on the Nod route. With Whitner coached to use a flat-foot read (no backpedal), the safety can play through the double-move and roll under the stem to the middle of the field. However, if Rodgers catches Whitner looking in the backfield or trying to jump the out cut, this will lead to a quick six points.
Don't forget Jennings
With Greg Jennings (X) aligned outside of the numbers (slant alignment), Rodgers can look to the wide receiver based off his pre-snap read. If Jennings can beat cornerback Tarell Brown (RC) on an inside stem at the snap, Rodgers will throw the quick, one-step slant. The slant on the backside of a 3x1 formation has to be an automatic alert for the 49ers when they break the huddle.
Ball must come out
If you are going to play zero-pressure, then you have to force the ball to come out to protect the secondary. If the 49ers don't get home on the blitz or allow Rodgers to extend the play, this is trouble for them. Receivers will convert routes, find open holes and no one is the NFL is better at making plays in the red zone than the Packers quarterback. Allow Rodgers to break contain and it's time to strike up the band to play the fight song.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.