Football can be complicated, but often it’s not. The San Francisco 49ers beat the New England Patriots 41 to 34 by a combination of fast defensive pass rush, and on the offensive side, leverage and spacing.
Leverage and spacing are the basics of offensive line blocking. “Leverage” is making sure that you as the lineperson gets lower than the defensive lineperson who’s opposite you. That way you can basically get under the defenders shoulder pads and better push them – in other words, get leverage. The opposite is for the defender to get under your pads, stand you up, then push you out of the way. All line battles can be understood in this way. On Sunday night, the 49ers won that battle consistently.
In fact, a good reason why Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers win with what was, for a time, the same playbook used by Head Coach Mike Singletary, is this attention to leverage and to line-spacing. The 49ers have the tightest line spacing in the NFL and it’s something Harbaugh brought over from Stanford, and something Stanford Head Coach David Shaw practices today. It’s hard to get around a line of people so close together they form a wall – one offensive line man can reach and “chip” on a defender who’s not over them because that defender’s close to them due to the close line splits.
Watch the 49ers videos and pay attention to the offensive line play with this in mind.
Now how does a team combat that?
First, the defender has to practice getting off the ball low – perhaps a four point stance. Second, defensive formations that cause a good “edge rush” – a 4-3 pinch defense, or a 4-6 defense, can work to bring the sack-masters closer to their target, the quarterback.
But the basic reason the 49ers win consistently is this o-line approach. It’s the foundation of victory.