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Published on 10/28/2010 at Thu Oct 28 13:25.
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Vernon Davis

The San Francisco 49ers offense has several big threats in the passing game, including Tight End Vernon Davis (#85). (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Every week, teams review film, discuss what they did right and wrong, then spend an entire week breaking down film on their upcoming opponent. Similarly, in BT’s Film Room, I’ll watch film on the Broncos upcoming foe week-to-week and give you my thoughts on what to watch for on Sunday. This week: San Francisco 49ers Edition.

Despite their 1-6 record, the San Francisco 49ers certainly need to be given some respect – especially their talented offense which features Tight End Vernon Davis, Running Back Frank Gore and Receiver Michael Crabtree.

Judging from the film, Davis is the guy the Broncos defense really needs to prepare for. Davis has been on a hot streak, catching a touchdown in each of the 49ers last four games. This season, the Niners’ leading reciever–Davis–has caught 32 passes for 422 yards and four touchdowns. San Francisco likes to get Davis down the middle of the field in one-on-one match-ups against linebackers and overmatched/undersized cornerbacks – where Davis is extremely effective.

Here’s a great example of a Tight End running a simple fly, or seam pattern and beating a linebacker – something the 49ers will certainly like to do against the Broncos.

As you can see in the above video, the 49ers got man coverage on Davis and he ran a basic flag pattern right down the field for a big chunk of yards.

The Broncos can counter this by using a similar game plan they had for the Colts in Week Three. Against the Colts, the Broncos faced another Pro Bowl Tight End in Dallas Clark. The Colts use Clark in a lot of ways the 49ers use Davis – out as a Receiver, in the slot, and on the line, maximizing his versatility and skills. To slow down the Colts’ Clark, Denver jammed him at the line of scrimmage each and every play. On most plays, Linebacker Mario Haggan and Safety Brian Dawkins each double teamed and pressed him right at the snap of the ball – not allowing him to run his route as quickly as he needed to, and sometimes stopping him completely from running his route by putting him on his butt. The Broncos did a great job of shutting Clark down, holding him to his least productive game of the season to that point.

Doing the same against the 49ers could prove invaluable. If the Broncos prevent Davis from running free, and shut him down at the line of scrimmage like they did against Indianapolis, 49ers Quarterback Alex Smith Troy Smith would be forced to find his second read, which could lead to interceptions and/or coverage sacks for the Broncos.

Update: The 49ers have announced that Troy Smith will start at Quarterback against the Broncos on Sunday. Smith provides another dangerous weapon on offense for the 49ers, an athletic, fast quarterback who ran a little Wild Cat while with the Ravens. Since there’s no film of Smith running the 49ers offense, it will be hard for the Broncos defense to prepare for him. They shouldn’t take him lightly, while he hasn’t proved anything in the NFL, or even started a game since 2007,  he brings a lot to the table. The Broncos will most likely try to confuse Smith with special blitzes and coverages this week.

Frank Gore

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (AP Photo)

Another threat the Broncos have been preparing for this week is Frank Gore. He’s been having a slow season on the ground (by his standards), rushing for 573 yards and just one touchdown. However, he has become a great weapon in the passing game and still possess big play ability on the ground, as we saw on film last week. In Tuesday’s press conference Head Coach Josh McDaniels noted that Gore was “quite possibly the best back we’ll face all year.” He then went on to note that Gore gets the ball 40% of the 49ers offensive plays, which is a whole lot when you consider he’s a running back in a pass oriented offense that features Davis and Michael Crabtree.

With the second most receiving yards on the team–behind only Davis–Gore has caught 37 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns. The Broncos defense can prevent Gore from putting up big numbers in the passing game by simply “Doing their jobs” as Coach McDaniels likes to say. The Outside Linebackers need to get to their zones, the flats – where Gore runs most of his routes.

In the above video, Smith looks left drawing the defense over just enough before turning and throwing back across the field to Gore in the flats.

The 49ers also like to throw to Davis out of play action. When Gore is able to establish a round game it opens up play action, as you can see:

Ranked respectively 16th in the NFL in passing yards and 28th in rushing yards, the stats tell the story as well as the film: Denver needs to stop the 49ers passing attack if they are to win on Sunday. The keys to that are: physically man handle Davis at the line, for the outside linebackers to not bite on play action, and to play their flats/outside responsibilities.

On to the other side of the ball.

The 49ers defense doesn’t really have any particular strength or weakness; they’re ranked 15th in both rushing (106.1) and passing (215.7) yards allowed per game. The defense feeds off big plays, recording 13 sacks and snatching 7 interceptions through the first seven weeks of play. Middle Linebacker Patrick Willis leads the defensive charge with 58 tackles and a sack.

The Broncos undoubtedly drew a big red arrow over #52 on the defense on the chalk board this week, as he’ll cause the most problems for the offense. Willis is the complete package, with playing style similar to that of D.J. Williams (only better), he’s an offense’s nightmare.

In the play seen above, the Saints could have prevented a sack by simply checking to another blocking scheme on the line, or if Reggie Bush would have picked up the blitzing Willis. The Broncos’ Orton, offensive line, and running backs will have to do a better job in identifying blitzes and adjusting to them.

The Broncos offensive line has allowed 17 sacks this season and has struggled mightily against the blitz. They’ll have to play one of their best games of the season if Kyle Orton is going to have any time, as San Francisco will blitz early and often.

In the end, if Kyle Orton gets time to throw, good things happen (just watch the film of the first few weeks when Orton had time to throw 15-yard routes).

In last week’s edition of Film Room, I noted that if Darren McFadden was ready to go, the Broncos defense had better be prepared, and they weren’t. McFaden rushed 15 times for 165 yards and 3 touchdowns. This week, the defense needs to step up and stop the 49ers passing attack, keying on Vernon Davis. If they can do that, they’ll be bringing a ‘W’ back across the pond on the flight home Sunday.