I take back anything negative I ever said about Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
He may not be a good head coach, but he is one hell of a defensive coordinator and the 49ers owe him a fruit basket because he created the blueprint to shut down the 2020 Seattle Seahawks offense, which is the No. 1 offense in the NFL.
All the 49ers have to do is copy it.
Joseph waited until overtime last week after he had given up 34 points to unveil this blueprint, which is odd timing. I don't know what took him so long, but he figured it out eventually and it won the game for him.
Joseph realized it's impossible to rush just four defenders, drop seven into coverage consistently and beat Russell Wilson. He's too good. He'll scramble or buy time behind the line of scrimmage and complete a deep pass. He's extremely accurate. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.
So what's the best thing to do against Wilson?
Pressure the hell out of him. Sack him or force him to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. Don't let him be a play maker -- make him be a distributor. And that's what Joseph did relentlessly in overtime. And that's what the 49ers must do on Sunday.
EXHIBIT A: 9:18 Overtime, Second and 2 at SEA 33.
Russell Wilson lines up in the shotgun, and running back Carlos Hyde is standing to his left. Joseph knows that if he calls a blitz, the Seahawks will make the offensive line slide away from Hyde; and he will have to block anyone who rushes outside the left tackle. Joseph counts on this. So he blitzes his outside linebacker, Hassan Reddick, off the edge of his defense, knowing Hyde will have to block him one on one. Hyde freaking stinks at blocking, so he whiffs and Reddick sacks Wilson. Joseph was just getting started.
EXHIBIT B: 6:23 Overtime, Third and 11 at SEA 44.
Wilson is in the shotgun and he has seven blockers -- a tight end, a running back and five offensive linemen. The Cardinals line up with seven potential rushers on the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks have to account for each of them in case they all blitz. But when the Seahawks snap the ball, four interior rushers drop into zone coverage, meaning the Seahawks' blocking assignments are useless. They all have to find new people to block on the fly.
The Cardinals rush only four defenders -- an outside linebacker, two safeties and a nickelback. No one blocks the nickel back, because he wasn't one of the seven defenders who was stalking the line of scrimmage before the play. The Seahawks didn't account for him. Easy sack. The Seahawks stink at picking up blitzes.
EXHIBIT C: 2:00 Overtime, Second and 14 at SEA 38.
Here, Joseph once again attacks the Seahawks running back in pass protection. This time, the running back is DeeJay Dallas. Again, Joseph knows the offensive line will slide away from the running back when Wilson is in the shotgun. So of course, the Cardinals will blitz directly at the running back. But the blitzer is nickelback Byron Murphy, and he gets no pressure. Doesn't even engage the running back. So Joseph makes an adjustment.
EXHIBIT D: 1:21 Overtime, First and 10 at AZ 48.
Joseph puts seven defenders on the line of scrimmage, knowing the Seahawks running back will have to block the edge blitzer on his side. So instead of blitzing a nickelback, this time Joseph blitzes safety Deionte Thompson, who runs over DeeJay Dallas and hits Wilson as he throws the ball away.
EXHIBIT E: 1:15 Overtime, Second and 10 at AZ 48.
This time, Joseph blitzes the nickel back from the side of the field farthest from the running back, who sees the blitz and hustles across the formation to pick it up after the center snaps the ball. He's so concerned with the nickel blitzer, he runs right past a linebacker blitzing up the middle, and the linebacker hits Wilson almost immediately as Wilson desperately throws the ball away. The Seahawks never found an answer for the Cardinals' blitzes.
EXHIBIT F: 1:04 Overtime, Third and 14 at SEA 48.
This is the game-winner. Again, the Cardinals show seven defenders on the line of scrimmage, and the Seahawks are freaked. Wilson wildly gesticulates to tell everyone whom to block. But when the center snaps the ball, the four interior rushers drop into zone coverage, just like they did in Exhibit B. But Wilson is so concerned about getting rid of the ball, he flings it to Tyler Lockett, his security blanket, who hasn't even turned his head yet, and the ball flies directly to one of the dropping interior rushers, rookie Isaiah Simmons, who makes the interception. And that's the ball game.
The 49ers have to use these same tactics Sunday in Seattle. Fortunately for the 49ers, they've used them in the past.
EXHIBIT G: 49ers-Eagles Week 4, 11:34 Fourth Quarter, Third and 8 at PHI 13.
Robert Saleh puts Arik Armstead slightly to the right of the center, forcing the center to slide that direction. Which leaves two Eagles offensive linemen -- the left guard and left tackle -- to block two defensive linemen -- Javon Kinlaw and Dion Jordan. There will not be a third blocker on that side of the line, because the center has to slide the other way and there's no running back in the backfield.
So Saleh blitzes nickelback Jamar Taylor. He runs around the edge, around Jordan, penetrated the backfield completely unblocked and sacks Carson Wentz.
Saleh needs to call lots of blitzes like this one against the Seahawks.
Blitz them into oblivion.
Watch the full breakdown below: