49ers defense gets to Bulger

The 49ers used speed and lots of blitzes to disrupt Rams quarterback Marc Bulger.

Updated: November 2, 2003, 11:25 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers defense entered 3Com Park with approximately 20 blitz packages in nickel and dime situations and about 15 in base alignments.

49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. didn't know exactly when or how he would use them against Rams quarterback Marc Bulger. But as Sunday's 30-10 victory progressed, Mora unloaded his playbook.

"I think we used about every one of them," Mora said of the blitz packages.

This probably sounds arrogant, but we are faster on defense than the Rams offense. We didn't used to be that way. It might sound cocky, but it's a fact. We're faster. Sure, they are going to catch some balls down the field, but we can run them down and make plays.
Jim Mora Jr., 49ers defensive coordinator

Since taking over for Kurt Warner, Bulger has been one of the league's best protected quarterbacks. The offensive line has been providing Bulger a pocket that would often give him three, four or five seconds to throw. That extra time has allowed the former backup to complete 65 percent of his passes and have a 92.5 quarterback rating.

Not this Sunday. Bulger became a victim of the blitz.

"They do a lot of great things and they just kicked our butts," Bulger said. "We can make excuses about all the missed assignments, but they played better than us."

Bulger was still phenomenal under the circumstances. He threw for 378 yards and one touchdown, but he was sacked five times, hit or hurried 19 times and had four passes deflected.

Rams coach Mike Martz has adjusted his strategy for Bulger. One or two extra blockers come to his support in passing situations. And he has put more emphasis on running the football in the past six games, but Sunday was difficult.

Though Marshall Faulk was active for a second consecutive week, Martz didn't want to play him and rush his recovering knee. With Lamar Gordon out with a high ankle sprain, rookie Arlen Harris, the three-touchdown star of a week ago in Pittsburgh, was the starter.

He didn't get it done against the 49ers. Harris had only eight carries for nine yards, and didn't have enough speed to get around the corner on outside plays and was stuffed trying to hit the middle of the 49ers defensive line.

Down 14-3 midway through the first quarter, the Rams had to throw -- and on came the blitzes.

"This probably sounds arrogant, but we are faster on defense than the Rams offense," Mora said. "We didn't used to be that way. It might sound cocky, but it's a fact. We're faster. Sure, they are going to catch some balls down the field, but we can run them down and make plays."

The 49ers have spent the past four years building up defensive speed to counter the Rams offense. It's a great rivalry, and Mora has become one of the league's foremost blitz specialists.

"We found early they were struggling to pick up some of the stuff we were doing." Mora said. "Anytime, that's the case, you're going to ride the wave."

The 49ers didn't blitz on first downs, but on second and third downs, they sent the house. Only once did the Rams try an empty backfield, sending five people into pass routes. The 49ers blitzed and came up with a sack.

Mora played games all day. He'd have three defensive linemen on the field, then would blitz two or three other defenders. Once he had a five-man defensive line and came with a blitz that resulted in a sack.

"It was pretty obvious, they had a plan," Bulger said. "If their blitz started working, they were going to keep on bringing it. That's what they did. They have a tendency to keep on blitzing if it works, just like they did against the Bears earlier in the year. Why not do it? If I was them, I would have kept on blitzing. They did a great job."

Sometimes a plan comes together just right.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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