© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
The block is hot.
When teams line up against the 49ers’ front six of Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner, they’re in for an extraordinarily bad time. The heat comes from all directions, and that includes the aggressive secondary tackling from safeties Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward, and nickel corner K’Waun Williams, plus the depth provided by Ronald Blair, D.J. Jones, Sheldon Day, Solomon Thomas and Dre Greenlaw.
It’s why Baker Mayfield, who failed to hide behind the Browns’ abysmal offensive line, was sacked four times and hit eight times, fumbling twice (turning it over once), and throwing a pair of interceptions (though one was on a drop by Antonio Callaway) with an 8-of-22 passing mark for 100 yards.
Bosa relished in that onslaught, sacking Mayfield twice, once on a sack-fumble, and also recovered a fumble forced by Buckner. As he said it, following his ode to Mayfield in the form of a 49ers flag plant, “He was panicking. He was double-clutching, rolling back and forth. We had him rattled.”
Nick Chubb ran for 87 yards, but had just nine yards in the second half, with his first-half carry of 37 yards (stopped from being a touchdown by Jimmie Ward), highlighting his night. For the fourth-straight week, the 49ers prevented a rushing touchdown.
“It felt legendary,” Alexander told KNBR after the game. “I’ve got faith in my team. Especially if you’ve got dogs in the front like the D-Line. It’s going to be hard to run. [Chubb] is a great back, but I’ve got faith in all of my defense. We showed up today.”
A 31-3 win over the Browns on Monday night—a win which pushed the 49ers to 4-0 for the first time since 1990—obviously provided satisfaction to an organization which has been starved of success since moving to Levi’s Stadium in 2014. But that satisfaction will be short-lived.
The vibe following that blowout win wasn’t that of a team which felt it had reached the mountaintop—it was that of a team desperate to keep climbing. Ford said, “we still have a lot to clean up, we’re chasing perfection,” and Alexander told KNBR that Monday night was but a taste of what’s to come from the defensive line.
“They’re just getting started man,” Alexander said. “You ain’t seen nothing yet… don’t even have nothing to say for real, because I’m just so excited man, especially for the team. Those guys are going to do big things, for sure.”
Alexander’s presence has been evident from the moment he joined the team. The bright red hair, jewelry and “legendary” energy he supplies has brought a swagger to this 49ers defense.
He’s made his counterpart, Fred Warner, a far more vocal, energetic leader in his second year, and the duo’s penchant for speed and hard-tackling has left no decrease in effectiveness despite the increase in nickel use this season (also a credit to Williams, who is a fantastic tackler, and one of the best pound-for-pound).
That swagger was ratcheted up on Monday, when the 49ers’ linebacking corps debuted their very own “Hot Boyzz” shirts before the game—and sweatshirts after it—the name given to the group by Alexander. As of now, it’s just the linebackers who have the gear, but Alexander told KNBR he might get some for the entire team “because everybody likes them.”
— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) October 7, 2019
Kwon Alexander had Hot Boyzz shirts made for the #49ers’ linebacking group on Monday, though Alexander said they’re (obviously) popular with the rest of the team — don’t expect them to stay exclusive to the linebackers for long pic.twitter.com/Fdf3Hc7f1I
— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) October 8, 2019
You’ll see on the bottom of the shirt that Alexander’s agent Drew Rosenhaus, has his agency credited. Alexander didn’t say who was responsible for the apparel—”I got a guy,” he said—but Rosenhaus was present at Levi’s Stadium for the Monday night game and Alexander said he plans to sell the shirts.
“We just got them made today, so we wanted everyone to see them, because we’re going to put them out,” Alexander said.
The shirt, as confirmed by rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw on Wednesday, was inspired by Lil Wayne and Birdman’s rap group coming up, The Hot Boyz (and likely also the movie, The Hot Boyz, starring Snoop Dogg, Silkk the Shocker and Garey Busey, directed by Master P).
The color scheme and vibe of the design is similar to that of the group’s 1999 album Guerrilla Warfare. “The Block is Hot” sits on the front of the shirt, and appears to come from Wayne’s debut studio album and lead track of the same name, “Tha Block is Hot” (below, for your viewing pleasure). Lil Wayne is head coach Kyle Shanahan’s favorite rapper and his music is frequently heard out on the 49ers’ practice field, and in the locker room.
Greenlaw was kind enough to show off his shirt for the picture above, and was at a loss for words—”Being a part of that, man…”—to describe what it’s like being part of the Hot Boyzz group as the third starting linebacker (the 49ers mostly use nickel, but when they switch to 4-3 alignments, like they did plenty of in the second half, to shut down Chubb, he’s the strong side SAM linebacker).
While the blowout came against the Browns, a team Greenlaw described as “crazy,” saying, “they’ve got all the hype coming in,” the rookie linebacker was in line with his veteran teammates regarding their pursuit of perfection.
“It’s about the techniques and the details and every now and then, just making sure that we’re all on our assignments,” Greenlaw said. “It’s about trying to strive for perfection, but in reality, we’ll never get there, but I mean, the fact that we want to be perfect says a lot about the defense and a lot about the character of people, but we just have to keep getting better man, continue to fix on the details, trying to take a good sign and take it to the next level.”
That mindset culminated in Monday’s run- and defense-inspired beatdown, with Greenlaw pointing to Matt Breida’s 83-yard touchdown run—in which he waved goodbye to safety Damarious Randle, and reached 22.3 mph, the fastest speed recorded by an NFL ball-carrier in the past two seasons—as setting the tone.
“I didn’t know Breida was going to blow by him like he did,” Greenlaw said. “I wasn’t surprised by it. I know he can run. But I figured everybody else could kind of run too, but I was like, ‘God. That’s the real deal right there.’ Sometimes, when you’re with it so much, you don’t know how. But it’s like dude, that’s the real deal right there. I done seen it first hand.”
Dealing with that sort of speed and Shanahan’s schemes have sharpened the 49ers defense, a group which held the Browns to three points on Monday in front of a national audience.
Fair to call that a statement win?
“Oh, we definitely made a statement tonight, man,” Greenlaw said. “That was a good statement tonight, too.”