SANTA CLARA – The 49ers’ defense has been exposed in its past seven games.
On Sunday, that same unit exposed the NFL rulebook – and, perhaps, will give the Competition Committee something to consider for the offseason.
The 49ers took advantage of a loophole in the rules that allows the defense to benefit from premeditated penalties in order to allow valuable time to run off the clock.
With :08 remaining in the first half, the New Orleans Saints had the ball at the 49ers’ 13-yard line. Coach Sean Payton decided to take one shot at the end zone.
But New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees never got his chance for a touchdown pass because none of his four receivers could even get off the line of scrimmage.
On the left side of the formation, 49ers cornerback Keith Reaser grabbed receiver Michael Thomas. On the right side, cornerback Tramaine Brock held onto Brandin Cooks. In the slot, Jimmie Ward locked up Willie Snead. And safety Eric Reid left nothing to chance by simply tackling tight end Coby Fleener.
With none of his top four options available, Brees threw incomplete to running back Travaris Cadet, who managed to avoid getting mauled by 49ers linebacker Nick Bellore.
The officials threw flags against Reaser, Ward and Reid. While four seconds ticked off the clock, all the Saints got in return was a 5-yard penalty. New Orleans had no other choice but to send out kicker Wil Lutz for a 26-yard field goal. The nature of the 49ers' penalties eliminated any chance of the Saints tacking on a touchdown before the end of the half.
“We practice all sorts of scenarios at the end of the first half and the end of the game,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said after the 49ers' 41-23 loss. “So we got flagged for a penalty there, which is a 5-yard penalty and then they kicked a field goal. They were (already) in field-goal range.
Kelly suggested the 49ers have worked on that particular situation in practices to familiarize the players with the strategy before implementing it in Sunday’s game.
“There’s a lot of things that we practice in practice that cross our minds,” Kelly said.