I’m in the middle of an internet argument with the crazy knowledgeable and always respectful Karl Cuba in the comment section over at FootballOutsiders. I claimed that every 49ers run in the 1st quarter in the SF-SEA game was against an 8-man front, generally with Earl Thomas dropping down as a 4th LB. I should hedge that I made this claim from memory, as I watched the game yesterday, and that this was one of my mental notes.
Mr. Cuba, however, re-watched with a fresh eye, and concluded that the niners did not run into 8-man fronts. Whenever an 8-man front appeared, they threw. He did concede, however, that there might be some disagreement as to what constitutes an 8-man front.
So now, without further ado, I present screenshots of the alignment just before each 49ers run play of the 1st quarter of SF@SEA.
1 - (14:55) Gore Left Guard 7 yds
2 - (14:17) Gore mid 6 yards
3 - (11:30) Gore Right Guard 4 yards (on 2nd-10)
4 - (4:33) Gore Right Guard 18 yards
5 - (3:50) Hunter middle 6 yards
6 - (3:08) Hunter Right End 9 yards (this one is a little unusual, so I’m posting two pics from different angles
7 - (1:46) Gore Left Tackle 1 yard
So, all in all, 7 run plays in the first quarter. Cuba’s point about it being tough to tell what SEA means to do because of SF overloading on linemen and tight ends is well taken; only two of these images show the 49ers lining up with more than 1 wide-out. Those are runs 2 and 6.
In run 2, Thomas is clearly lining up as a 4th LB, in what looks like a cover 3 coverage. Run 6 is complicated because the niners did two sets of motions to get to a 4-wide look. That said, it looked to me like they were lined up to do a two-deep man under coverage, with the SLB cheating inside the TE who motioned out, expecting a run.
Of the remaining runs where the 49ers were in some sort of jumbo set, whether balanced or not, only run 1 looked like the Seahawks were operating with two high safeties. On that one, it looked like they were planning to bracket Vernon Davis with a LB and the safety who was 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. On all the others, one of the safeties came down to at most a 5-yard depth to present wither a 4-4 or a 5-3 look against that jumbo line.
The way I’m scoring this is, with 7 runs, 5 were against a defense that had loaded the box (mostly in response to the 49ers loading their line), and 2 were against defenses that had not loaded the box. Since both Karl Cuba and I made absolute statements, I say we’re both wrong.