Earlier this week, I reached out to @NFLRT — who knows “who’s who” in most, if not all, NFL fanbases and asked if he could point me in the direction of a 49ers expert that I could conduct a Q&A with. He replied back with Rich Hribar, aka @LordReebs on Twitter. So I hit Rich up and he was gracious enough to agree to answer my questions…
To describe the 49ers defense as “opportunistic” and “dominating” is almost an understatement. With several former first round picks, and all 11 starters from 2011 returning this season, who are the key personnel the Bills offense has to focus on? Is there anyone they will possibly try to exploit?
Obviously what makes the San Francisco defense so good is their ability to make teams easy to defend by taking away the running game all together. They’ve allowed only one 100 yard rusher (Marshawn Lynch) and only 4 (2 of which were by QB) rushing touchdowns in the past 22 games, including last postseason. In the front seven, people already know about Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. But ILB Navarro Bowman is the player to watch. Bowman was 7th in the NFL in tackles last season with 143 and and is currently 3rd this season with 45. He is everywhere on the field and has even played more in the 49ers dime package than Willis so far this season.
If Urbik and Glenn miss this game they are going to have their hands full all day up front, but if the Bills are to exploit one facet of the 49ers defense it is in the secondary. Safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson have allowed 3 TD in pass coverage through 4 weeks. Cornerback Tarrell Brown has allowed 15/18 passes on him to be completed for 221 yards as well, allowing a QB rating of 117.8 when Quarterbacks are throwing his way.
The matchup to look for could be in the slot with Donald Jones on Carlos Rodgers who plays the slot in nickel/dime. In the slot, Jones has caught 8/9 targets for 120 yards (including that 68 yard score last week) while Rodgers has allowed the 5th most yards while defending slot receivers (110 yds).
For a long time Alex Smith was considered the weak point of the 49ers offense; however, he only threw 5 picks in 2011 and only 1 so far in 2012. What’s been the secret to his turnaround the past few years?
Confidence. After years of being belittled for mistakes from Mike Singletary (who once made him watch an entire practice from a hill for an INT thrown in the same practice), Jim Harbaugh has come in and built Smith back up into trusting himself in the offense with the team showing and expressing their confidence in him. Gone are the cheers for David Carr, J.T. O’Sullivan and Troy Smith. The emphasis on ball security and taking what the defense is letting you have gave him early success last season. Once a quarterback trusts the offense there’s a domino effect that follows. The physical tools were in place. He has only thrown 10 passes 20 or more yards downfield so far in 4 weeks so he will not force the issue. Fair or unfair, unless this team wins a Super Bowl he will forever be painted as the weak link as what is holding them back.
Brandon Jacobs has yet to play a down for the 49ers this season, but it looks like there’s a good chance that changes this week. Do you think he was signed mainly as insurance for the injury prone Frank Gore? How much are you expecting him to contribute on Sunday?
The signing was really puzzling to be sure. Even after they selected LaMichael James I was sure he wouldn’t make the team. I’m still unsure what his role will be this week as Kendall Hunter is a far more more explosive back and has shown the ability to come in for Gore. I see him as the true backup. Another interesting element into Jacobs being active Sunday is he does not contribute on special teams at all. If he takes the spot of FB/RB Anthony Dixon, who is on the kickoff and punt teams, that has a trickle down effect and could impact the game in another aspect.
Give me the rundown on Colin Kaepernick, Manningham’s reverses, and whatever other gadgetry Harbaugh and his staff are beginning to work into the offense’s playcalling.
You will see alot of creativity from the Niners formation wise. Take note of just how many different formations you see them use. They frequently use defensive players on offense and a variety of jumbo/unbalanced lines with 6 offensive lineman. Both of their tight ends are fantastic in run blocking which helps as well, and you’ll notice a ton of pre-snap motion from the fullbacks and tight ends to gain leverage in point of attack.
The Wild “Kap,” as it’s being referred to now, was really brought out for the first time last week in New York. Kaepernick rushed for 1,100 yards three straight seasons in Nevada with 53 career rushing TDs. The 49ers featured the option frequently in the preseason, especially with LaMichael James. With versatile players like Delanie Walker, Manningham, Tedd Ginn and Kyle Williams they will use a lot of misdirection on jet sweeps, end arounds and likely you will see some throws soon all stemming from the option.
Ok, so it’s a tough task that’s ahead of the Bills. What will they need to do if they’re going to pull off an upset on Sunday?
The main thing Buffalo needs to do is just not beat themselves. The 49ers follow a simple but proven football philosophy. Don’t make mistakes, play sound defense and run the football. They play things tight to the vest, it’s very unlikely you’ll see them come out and lay an offensive explosion on teams. Even last week that game was 10-0 at the half and 17-0 after 3. Once you become one dimensional they let you beat yourself.
Buffalo does have a few unique talents on offense that they could use to their advantage. The 49ers have had trouble defending the flats this season, using Spiller/Jackson out of the backfield in a Sproles like fashion (15 receptions vs 49ers in Divisional playoff game) and getting them in space will be a necessity. I anticipate the Bills to have a quick passing attack to neutralize the pass rush but if they fall too far behind you know Fitzpatrick is prone to turnovers.
Prediction for the game?
With the OL injuries the Bills are entering the game with it will be a tough task to run the ball and pass protect… unfortunately playing right into the strengths of this team. I expect a 27-13 game in favor of the Niners.
Thanks for taking the time to do this, Rich (hope you’re wrong on that prediction though). And thanks, @NFLRT, for helping me get in touch with Rich!