Football 101: Defensive Pursuit

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A former linebacker, 49ers radio color analyst Gary Plummer is well versed on the X's and O's of football. Throughout the offseason he will break down many football schemes and concepts in these Football 101 segments, which can also be seen on TV49. Enjoy this piece on defensive pursuit.**

In this edition of Football 101, we're going to see are going to be on the defensive side of the ball – the side that really counts. 

Here, we're going to see an example of why it's so important to run to the football.  Coaches preach it and you'd think that everyone would do it, but not everyone does.  One guy who does it for the 49ers, there's a reason that he has been to two Pro Bowls in only two years as a professional – Joe Staley. 

This is a huge play that really turned the game around for the 49ers up in Seattle.  It's tough to see on the tape because you're seeing a little bit in the daylight and a little bit in the shadows.  But, this is a cover-three (defense). 

The outside linebacker, up top, is responsible for the flat.  You have the corner up top, Walt Harris, responsible for the deep-third.  You have the safety, here, responsible for the middle-third.  The linebackers, if there is nobody in their zone, they are supposed to continue to get depth. 

One guy who continues to get a little bit of depth and then continue to break on the football is Patrick Willis.  There's excellent coverage on this play.  Walt Harris breaks on the ball and actually knocks the ball out from the Seattle wide receiver. 

Here is Patrick Willis, running to the football.  This is just fun to watch.  Willis turns into a running back.  Most guys, even if you are a defensive player, at one time in your career, whether it was in college, whether it was in high school, or all the way back into the days of Pop Warner little league football – you played some kind of offense. 

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Willis is showing his ability to play running back.  He has the ball on the outside as the quarterback comes and tries to tackle him.  He uses his hand to bat away the pesky little quarterback and then outruns the offensive players all the way downfield. 

Guys practice this.  Every time there is an interception in practice, they understand that it becomes an offensive play.  They turn up the field to try and help somebody out and block. 

Some of these guys for the 49ers are a little bit tired because they've been rushing the passer for a long time.  Ray McDonald, down here, is not quite as fast as Willis.  Willis is making a heck of a lot happen here as guys are diving for him. 

That was an 87 yard touchdown, but he probably ran for about 187 yards.  The bad part about that for Willis is that he's got to go right back on the field and play defense.  But he'll take that every time, getting a touchdown.  That was a big play for the 49ers defense. 

This is the end zone angle of what it means to run to the football.  It was the cover-three (defense). The guy that knocked the ball out is down here helping out at the end, against those trying to make a last minute tackle.  Even though he didn't block anybody, he got in the way of a few Seattle offensive guys.  Harris has the ability to break up a pass and then hustle all the way down the field and help create a touchdown for the 49ers and that really changed the game up there in Seattle.   

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