Earlier this week, linebacker Michael Wilhoite said the 49ers’ defense was only a few pages into the dense playbook devised by coordinator Eric Mangini, whom Wilhoite referred to as “Mangenius.”
Mangini’s counterpart on offense, Geep Chryst, doesn’t have a nickname, but he hinted his unit also had plays and formations in reserve after Monday’s win over Minnesota.
“I think that the way we started the game, not just with that personnel group but having success out of it, maybe you didn’t have to get to other parts, other corners of the call sheet, because we were having success with that,” Chryst said Thursday.
The 49ers began with a three-tight-end – “13” – formation and stuck with it in a game in which they never trailed. They used that unusual look on 34 of 73 offensive snaps.
Opponents likely will counter by bunching defenders along the line of scrimmage. The Steelers expect plenty of rushes by the 49ers, including from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who out-rushed Minnesota’s star tailback, Adrian Peterson, on Monday 41 yards to 31. Pittsburgh wasn’t concerned about a running quarterback in Week 1.
“It’s two totally different animals,” Steelers outside linebacker Arthur Moats told Pittsburgh reporters this week. “With (Tom) Brady, you didn’t have to worry about the running aspect, but you knew he was going to get rid of (the ball) fast. With Kaepernick, he’s going to hold it longer, and he has that scrambling ability.
“As pass rushers, we love that we’re playing Kaepernick because he’s going to hold the ball, and you’re going to get those opportunities. I felt like last week we had good rushes going, but he was getting rid of it so quick you don’t see the fruits of that. This week, you’re actually going to see that, so we’re excited.”
Against the Vikings, Kaepernick had success throwing short and intermediate passes to tight ends and wide receivers. But his longest pass play was 20 yards, and he connected just once with wide receiver Torrey Smith, the most expensive free agent ever signed by general manager Trent Baalke. Tapping into the deep passing game is the best way to make opponents pay for stacking the line of scrimmage.
Chryst signaled there are some unusual plays still to come when, on the first drive Monday, he called one that 49ers observers never had seen. The offensive line was in a typical formation, but two pairs of receivers were set wide – so wide they were standing next to the sideline – on either side.
A defensive holding call wiped out the play, but the 49ers gave the Vikings an early look at a play they hadn’t seen and one that was different than their base packages that day.
“There was so much of the condensed sets, the close splits, that we just wanted to have a variety of formations, and that was one way to have variety,” Chryst said. “I looked up there, and I said, ‘Wow, they really took a wide split.’ You normally use the markings on the field for, you know, our point of reference. But they were definitely outside of the three-point arc there.”