Why Robert Saleh's Defense is so Successful

It cannot be overstated how superb of a job that 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is doing this season.
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It cannot be overstated how superb of a job that 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is doing this season. 

No Nick Bosa, no Dee Ford, and no DeForest Buckner. 

These three players are what made the 49ers' defense last season so stout. It was even believed that Saleh was nothing without any of these players. 

How does that narrative look now?

Saleh is doing a better job in 2020 than he did in 2019 considering all of the shuffling and adapting he's needed to do with so many injuries. The 49ers' defense is ranked in the top 10 in nearly every statistical category. Just imagine had the defense been near full strength all season long. It is why he is once again in the conversation to be a head coach in 2021. 

So what is the secret that makes Saleh's defense so successful?

It really comes down to a vast array of factors, but one facet that needs to be highlighted is that he runs a position-less defense. 

Take Sunday's win over the Rams as an example. Saleh used both Jimmie Ward and Richard Sherman all over the formation. You saw Ward be utilized a ton in the box and Sherman as a free safety. Marcell Harris was used as a linebacker and Tarvarius Moore even got some run around the box.

So why is this important to his success? 

Because when a quarterback is attempting a pre-snap read, he is going to be completely guessing what the 49ers' defense is doing. It is not a coincidence that the 49ers forced Jared Goff into multiple turnovers. The guy was just flustered and discombobulated by the formation of the 49ers' defense. 

And that is a massively underrated factor for success. 

Winning a play for either offense or defense is decided  half the time by the pre-snap formation. It is why Kyle Shanahan is also successful because he too operates a position-less offense. You just never know what Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle or Kyle Juszczyk are doing. 

This is why it is not a coincidence that Shanahan wanted Saleh to run the defense. They both are similar in the way they operate their respective units. It truly is such a cruel way to dismantle the opposition because their opponent will have no way of knowing how to stop them. At that point, it is a pick-your-poison scenario and just hope the play ends in your favor.

Saleh is a genius. 

He will forever be touted as a leader of men and full of energy, but do not let that depreciate his intelligence. The guy just knows how to bring the best out of all of his players emotionally, mentally and schematically. Any team that hires Saleh is going to have found the best candidate available.