Friday, September 12, 1986
By CHARLES BRICKER
San Jose Mercury News Staff Writer
Base, 4-3, nickel, nickel blitz, five-man line, eight-man line . . . the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got it all last Sunday.
And George Seifert, the 49ers' defensive coordinator, sat in the media box high upstairs at Tampa Stadium pushing the buttons that led to the confusion. Twice Bucs quarterback Steve DeBerg threw interceptions against the 49ers' Chicago-style eight-man front.
Three times defensive end Jeff Stover had sacks in the Niners' nickel.
San Francisco won 31-7, and Seifert once again got to play live video games with the personnel below.
Coach Bill Walsh isn't revealing his game plan for the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, but it's a sure bet there will be something new in there.
One thing was predictable about Seifert's defenses in 1984 and 1985, when the 49ers won 28 and lost eight. It was utterly unpredictable.
Guess what? Seifert hasn't changed his style at all. It's more of the same in 1986, only more so.
Walsh, who played an eight-man line only rarely last season, used it eight times against Tampa Bay and wants it in the Niners' portfolio about 15 percent of the time this season.
Walsh played about 30 percent nickel defense in '85. He wants that up to about 40 percent.
Seifert is his guy, a man whose favorite expression is "change up." As in: "Gee, why don't we throw a nickel at these guys on first down. That would be an interesting change up."
Some teams make minimal adjustments along their defensive front. They'll come out in a three-man line and stay there until it's third-and-10, then go into a nickel.
Seifert? He's got a little something for every down, every distance. For him, it's the element of surprise, the need to put the offense on the defensive.
''You're playing base, you're playing base . . . then, boom, all of a sudden there's something different there," Seifert said.
Walsh seemed reluctant back in training camp to talk about his defensive plans for this season.
But after one game, it is apparent that his grand plan is to step up the defensive variety that started in '84, when the 49ers were 18-1 and won Super Bowl XIX.
In the Bucs game, he began most defensive series in his base three-man line -- John Harty and Dwaine Board at ends and Michael Carter at nose tackle.
On second down, Seifert ordered his four-man line in (they call it Elephant). It's the base group plus rookie pass-rush specialist Charles Haley, who lines up on the flex (split end) side a little off the line of scrimmage and makes a beeline to the quarterback.
Most third-down passing situations found the Niners' nickel in the game -- a four-man line of rookies Haley and Larry Roberts outside and Carter and Stover inside, plus two linebackers and five defensive backs.
Jeff Fuller was one of the linebackers, but he is now on injured reserve and probably will be replaced by recently acquired Tom Cousineau.
Then, sprinkled in, just for that old Seifert change up, was a little five-man line and some of Buddy Ryan's eight-man front.
The smorgasbord of defenses causes Seifert's players to study their playbooks long into the night, but it takes advantage of their particular talents.
''We still don't know ourselves yet this season where we're going to progress, who we are going to use in certain defenses," Seifert said Thursday.
''But we'll learn in a few games. If we find a lineman, for example, that has the ability to zone drop, we'll start letting him do those things."
The juxtaposition of players already has started. One of Seifert's plans this season was to get the lighter (245-pound) Board out of the run-oriented base defense and put the 275- pound Stover in his place. Board would come in on passing situations.
But Stover had three sacks out of the nickel, and Board, in the three-man base, played well against the run.
''We only played Dwaine in the base for the Tampa game because we figured there would be a lot of hammering, and we didn't want to further injure Jeff's shoulder," Seifert explained.
''But both of those guys had such good days that it influences your thinking."
In 1984, Seifert was plugging in new defenses every week, until the players had consumed so much they began forgetting what they learned by the eighth week of the season.
This time Walsh's coaches are ready for that. "You can only get as complicated as your guys can handle it," said linebackers coach Norb Hecker.
''You have to be careful if you have a lot of defenses. We have a lot of young players, and they can draw it up pretty good on the blackboard.