Saleh explains how 49ers balance instincts vs. discipline


On the football field, there's a fine balance between staying disciplined and and acting with instincts.

In the past, the 49ers defense has had issues with individual players trying to do too much. While the effort is always with the best intentions, sometimes trying to be a “hero” can cost the team yards, a first down or even points.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh explained that while he wants his men to play within the parameters of the scheme, he also understands that their instincts can lead to game-changing moments. Fred Warner’s interception of New York Giants’ quarterback Daniel Jones in Week 3 is just one example. 

Saleh knows that a player taking a shot is not fool proof, but he also believes that with all of the preparation and film study, his players are right more often than they are wrong.

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“Fred on the interception at the Giants game, he knew the play,” Saleh said on Thursday. “If you actually watch his technique, that's not the way we teach it, but he knew the play. He hung inside. He baited the quarterback and he took it. 

“So, you encourage guys to play football out there, but understand what your rules are. If he would have just played normal ball and took a zone drop, the quarterback never would've thrown it there because he would have been in position to begin with, and he would have went somewhere else with the ball and maybe the drive is still continuing.”


When Warner spoke about the interception after the game, he credited safety Jaquiski Tartt for tipping him off to where the play was going. They had already seen the play once in the contest and instincts told them it was going to happen again. 

The linebacker played Jones correctly and ended up looking like he was the intended receiver on the play. 

“You never want to make these guys robots,” Saleh said. “But when you have guys who just know something's happening, they know the play and their rule tells them one thing, but they just know something's happening, we encourage them to take their shot.

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“To expect them to be a 100 percent would probably be asking a lot of them, but they understand if they take a shot and they miss, they take ownership to it.” 

Saleh believes his players to be one of the more disciplined groups in the NFL, knowing they communicate from pre-snap until the whistle is blown. High-risk doesn’t guarantee high-reward but Saleh does know that a miss is not a result of a lack of discipline, but his players trusting their instincts.