As cornerback Shawante Spencer explained it, the 49ers defense has two goals in mind for each game: hold the opponent to less than 100 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. If accomplished, it tends to sway the outcome in their direction.
The key word is "tends."
The defense accomplished those goals last week in Seattle, holding Matt Hasselbeck to 170 passing yards and the Seahawks' three-pronged running attack to 73 yards on 21 carries. Although the stat book suggested a solid performance, they still allowed three touchdowns along the way in a 31-6 defeat.
Those touchdowns took place inside the red zone, an area routinely stressed by defensive coordinator Greg Manusky for its overall importance to the team's success.
In key moments of the game, the 49ers failed to get the stops they were able to depend on last season.
Manusky's unit faced 47 drives by opponents into its red zone in 2009 and held them to 19 touchdowns, giving the 49ers the third-best red zone touchdown efficiency percentage (40.4) in the NFL.
The 49ers currently rank 24th in that category, after allowing three touchdowns and a field goal in Seattle's four trips inside the 20. However, the unit hopes to climb the rankings after taking on the high-powered New Orleans Saints offensive attack this Monday.
It'll be a challenge, but one that they welcome.
"I think that's always the difference," Manusky said on the importance of red zone defense. "I don't care where they get the ball. If you stop them we have a great chance to win. If we don't, bad things will happen."
Manusky is especially aware of the talents of the opposing quarterback this week and how effective he is in the red zone. Manusky served as the San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator from 2002-05, when Saints quarterback Drew Brees was the starting quarterback.
"He was always a good guy," Manusky said of the quarterback he affectionately referred to as, "Breesey."
"Right from the get-go, just loved his charisma, the way he handles himself. He's extended his career when he's been down there in New Orleans of course, but great guy. I love Breesey."
Manusky alluded to Brees' comfort in New Orleans' scheme as a major component to his success.
Conversely, the 49ers comfort in their own scheme will once again play a key role in this week's matchup.
Seattle used double-moves to counteract the aggressiveness of the 49ers defensive backs. But the way the 49ers approached the game didn't bother Manusky.
"I want the players to be aggressive, go after balls and pick balls off in the secondary and amongst the linebackers as well," he said.
Cornerback Nate Clements' interception on the first play of the game last week was proof of positive aggressive play. Clements recognized a route ran by John Carlson and stepped in front of the third-year tight end.
"If we play our style the opportunities are going to come, and when they do, you got to make plays," Clements said. "I don't think we have to press the issue. The opportunities are going to come as long as play consistent in our defense."
Notes and QuotesTwo Louisiana natives in the 49ers locker room have been flooded with texts, calls, and even tweets from their friends back home. For former LSU standouts Pierre Garçon and Curtis Taylor, it's all in good fun. "I just laughed at it," said Jean Francois of the tweets he's been fielding.
Taylor said he's been getting plenty of "Who Dat" texts from his close friends. The razzing doesn't bother him however, the second-year safety from Franklinton, La., actually grew up a 49ers fan. "My dad was a 49ers fan. I kept up with them because of him."
With Ahmad Brooks likely returning to action this week, Manusky said the plan was to let Brooks and Travis LaBoy rotate in with the other outside linebackers. "I think they're getting some series where they'll be sprouted in a little bit at outside linebacker and defensive end. They'll be across the board and be put in certain situations to rush or in the end to drop."