Vic Fangio coached the linebackers for the New Orleans Saints when four linebackers made the Pro Bowl at the same time.
The San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator still oversees a quality quartet of linebackers in his current role, a group he’ll bring to the place he started his NFL coaching career in 1986.
Fangio’s No. 2 overall total defense (allowing 277.2 yards per game) will head South this weekend to face one of his old employers. Fangio believes the challenge will be one of the toughest of the year against a New Orleans that has tremendous volume at its disposal.
The 49ers coordinator described the Saints offensive attack on Thanksgiving Day as “proficient and explosive.”
New Orleans ranks fifth in total offense, averaging 391.3 yards per game. Led by elite quarterback Drew Brees, who’s been in the same offensive system for several years, the Saints feature one of the most versatile offenses in the NFL.
It’s not just one player you have to worry about, many of the Saints offensive weapons have contributed to the team’s recent turnaround where they’ve won five of their last six games.
“It’s a tough ask to slow these guys down,” said Fangio of the Saints offense which averages 28.7 points per game, tied for fourth-best in the league.
In particular, tight end Jimmy Graham presents a big target for Brees all over the field and especially in the red zone.
The 49ers allowed Graham to score in the red zone when the teams met in last sesaon’s 36-32 49ers win in the NFL’s Divisional Playoff round. Despite the score, Fangio felt his unit matched up OK with the Pro Bowl tight end who has 27 touchdowns since 2010, the most in the NFC.
Fangio wants it to be even better against Graham the second time around.
“It was OK, it wasn’t as good as it needed to be,” Fangio said. “A tight end like that is a problem. You have to figure out how you want to match up.”
The 49ers coordinator has options on his side. In particular, five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis is coming off an excellent performance against the Chicago Bears on “Monday Night Football.” In that game, Willis consistently covered Bears running backs and tight ends in the open field with consistent success.
“He did have a good game in coverage,” Fangio said. “I thought Patrick had an exceptional game on Monday.”
Same with Aldon Smith, according to Fangio, who believes his second-year player has improved with added strength in his first season as an every-down player.
“I think he’s always had good strength, he’s gotten stronger,” Fanio said. “He’s got strong hands, too.”
Following Smith’s Monday night record, 5.5-sack performance, Fangio raved about the San Francisco linebacker’s ability to be “slithery.”
Fangio mentioned that Smith might line up as a right linebacker at times, something he did during the Monday night win over Chicago. With New Orleans suffering numerous injuries on the right side of their line, perhaps Smith might see more time against the Saints inexperienced linemen.
Fangio has time to tinker with how he’ll line up Smith on Sunday. For now, he’ll continue to gameplan against a talented Saints lineup.
It’s not like the 49ers coordinator can’t isolate one player and take them out of the game with defensive schemes. Fangio believes it’ll be a tough test across the board.
“You just have to line up and play and win some one-on-one matchups.”
Tags: Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, Vic Fangio
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