My Guest’s Perfect Formations: San Francisco 49ers

49ers Formation

Editor’s Note

You may not have noticed yet, because of the simply unbelievable Aaron Hernandez story, but we’ve firmly entered the deadzone of the NFL’s 12-month calendar. This is the time of the year when writers are either taking a much needed vacation or desperately trying to stretch every minor story into major breaking news. At least, that is the case for those writers who are employed by newspapers or large media companies.

Here at PSR, it’s not a media powerhouse and I am my own boss. Therefore, I don’t really have the stress of responsibility that will force me to write something that I don’t want to write about and I certainly don’t make enough money to be taking an extended vacation.

Instead, this is the time of year when I like to juxtapose my tape watching with different exercises that entertain me. This year one of those is the Mirror Images series over at Matt Waldman’s site, but the other is the one I want to write about now.

I want to find out who can put out the single strongest lineup in a specific formation in the whole league. It can be whatever formation you want on offense or defense, the only rule is that you must have 11 players and all 11 must be under contract with the same team. This can be done for either offense or defense and essentially your goal doesn’t change, but your point of view does.

On offense you want to be able to react to everything the defense does. This means having the flexibility to audible into more than two or three different plays and the talent spread through your roster to create matchup advantages where the defense is weak(er). On defense your goal is to hide that weakness and use your strength to create a blanket that puts out every fire the offense tries to light.

This is the ‘Perfect Formations Series‘.

Article Written by Sam McIlwaine

Due to the talent of their respective rosters, I find it hard to believe that anyone can find a better defensive alignment than the Seattle Seahawks or a better offensive formation than the San Francisco 49ers. Both teams are very talented in terms of personnel and have two excellent head coaches. Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll are two of the best minds in the NFL, while their coordinators, Greg Roman and previously Gus Bradley, were probably the two hottest in the league last year due to their smart and diverse schemes.

The 49ers have an extremely diverse attack from their unique goal line looks to their recent implementation of the read option and the pistol formation.

I feel like the 49ers wanted a formation with limitless options. A formation that has begun to and will continue to slowly, but surely, change the way NFL coaches and coordinators think. I am talking about the 49ers Pistol alignment. The Pistol is so great because of it its unique flexibility. It was created by Chris Ault at Nevada and offers so many different options. It gives you a downhill run threat, it gives you an east-west run threat, the read option, triple option and basically any form of passing attack that you want.

The specific formation I am talking about will have Frank Gore at the halfback spot, LaMichael James standing beside Colin Kaepernick, with Vernon Davis at tight-end and Michael Crabtree split wide across from Anquan Boldin. The versatility of Davis and Kaepernick is what makes this formation so potent. Davis can line up anywhere in this layout and be very dangerous with his 4.4 speed and large frame. Kaepernick has an extremely powerful arm and has the ability to put the ball wherever he wants to. His arm strength allows him to squeeze the ball into tight windows. Although he might not be as smart a quarterback as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady but his pure physical ability allows him to make up for the occasional mental error. He also runs like a gazelle and is the most athletic quarterback in the NFL in my opinion. To counter this, the defense has to be very athletic and play to their gaps against this look. One missed gap or blown coverage will see the 49ers take advantage and score.

The defense can’t afford to take Linebackers off the field or the 49ers will shove the ball down their throats with Gore, James and Kaepernick. Gore is a powerful and physical runner who breaks tackles and always falls forward. Despite not having breakaway speed anymore he is quick enough to earn the respect of the defense. Since being drafted, James has mainly been used as a scat back. He is very dangerous in space and has breakaway potential. James is excellent at making defenders miss and although he is not particularly physical, he can break some arm tackles.

An underrated aspect of the Pistol formation is that it offers so many different run threats. It can be an I-Formation run where you are ramming it down the defenses throat with Gore or it can be a shotgun sweep type run where you are stretching the defense horizontally with James. Also the defense has to be prepared to defend the read option and Kaepernick’s amazing athletic ability. If they get slightly confused with their setup, one of Kaepernick, Gore or James could be sent free. We all saw this against the Green Bay Packers when the 49ers combined for 323 yards rushing.

Although Dom Capers and the Packers’ defense played the read option particularly horribly, this shows the potential that this formation has.

When I think of the 49ers’ offensive line, three words pop in to my mind; Big, Nasty and Scary. Joe Staley is a very good left tackl, while Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis are two other stars on the line. The five offensive linemen are able to get great push in the run game and are also able to protect Kaepernick very effectively. All of these players are adequate at both pass and run blocking, with Davis being a particular standout in the run game. The offensive line that the 49ers possess forces the defense to respect the rushing aspect of the offense and makes the linebackers and safeties just a little more susceptible to the play action game.

The immense threat of the 49ers run game gives Vernon Davis the ability to attack the seams and find space in the middle of the field between the linebackers and safeties. Crabtree can attack the field vertically and take advantage of out of position safeties, or he can run short crossing routes to get good yards after the catch with his physical and elusive running style. In my mind he’s probably the second best after the catch wide receiver in the league behind Percy Harvin.

Anquan Boldin may now greatly lack in ability to create separation but as we saw throughout the 2012 season it doesn’t really matter when he can always bring the pass down. He is immensely physical and is brilliant at high-pointing the ball and bringing it down despite being within inches of defenders.

Another factor that helps the 49ers is that they know they will mostly be playing against zone coverage or the defensive ends will be playing contain. The defense has to play zone coverage because if they are playing man, Kaepernick can take off and short gains could potentially turn into touchdowns. Also the fact that the pass rush will be trying to contain Kaepernick allows him to have more time in the pocket and connect on those deep throws to Crabtree, Boldin and Davis.

This is the perfect offensive formation in the NFL. It offers so many threats and the only thing it really lacks is a receiver who can take the top off of the defense. Personally, I think Vernon Davis has the ability to do this if he is split out wide which he could well be with Crabtree’s unfortunate injury. The key to this formation is that every player on the field can do everything. Gore and James are both adequate pass catchers at the worst and Boldin and Crabtree are two of the best blocking receivers in the league.

I truly believe that this has to be the best offensive formation in the NFL.

So, is Sam right? Is this offensive setup the best in the league? Is there something you think Sam has overlooked? Would you like to propose a better offensive alignment and personnel package? Or would you like to write a piece on a defensive unit that deserves consideration for being a “Perfect Formation” in this series?

If you do, be sure to leave all comments below. If you want to submit an article for this series, you can do so to Cianfahey91@gmail.com, but only articles deemed good enough will be published so do put in the effort.

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