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49ers defense has look and feel of championship caliber unit

© Orlando Ramirez | 2019 Oct 13

Although they had lost back-to-back games, the Los Angeles Rams offense was still moving the ball with regularity. Take, for example, Weeks 4 and 5, where Sean McVay’s group had a combined total of 69 points and 995 yards. Overall in 2019, the Rams were averaging 29.2 points and 412.5 yards through five games. It was basically status quo for one of the better offenses in the league. In Week 6, however, that all came to a screeching halt.

Los Angeles was dominated by a San Francisco 49ers defense that has the look and feel of a championship unit. The Niners held the Rams to 157 total yards, including just 48 net passing yards. The swarming effort paced Kyle Shanahan’s team to a 20-7 victory, and it’s first 5-0 start since 1990.

This most recent performance was just another example of how good defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit has become. Week in and week out, the 49ers have overwhelmed opponents with their team speed and devastating defensive line. The dominance is easy to see with the naked eye, and it’s reflected in the numbers as well.

San Francisco’s given up just 64 points this year, which is 12.8 per game. If you consider that seven of those points were due to a pick-six surrendered by Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 1, those totals dip to 57 points or 11.4 per game. Either way, it puts the 49ers second best in the NFL in those categories, behind only the New England Patriots.

Like most dominating defenses, the big plays all start with pressure, and Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and company have the second highest pressure percentage at 30.5. They’re also getting home with regularity, as the 49ers sack percentage is good for third best overall (10 percent).

The eye-popping numbers go on and on, as the Niners have the most turnovers for any team that’s played fewer than six games (12), are second best in yards allowed per game (237.4) and per play (4.3), and have given up the fewest first downs (65). Opposing offenses have converted just 18-of-61 third down attempts, and just four out of 32 over the last three games.

Maybe most impressive is that the strong play seems to be contagious. Trent Baalke-era holdovers like Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward are having career years, and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who had never started an NFL game entering 2019, has been outstanding in place of injured starter Ahkello Witherspoon.

With a defense like this, the 49ers have a chance to win any game, anywhere, in any conditions. It’s a recipe that should carry the team throughout the season, and make them a real threat in the playoffs should that opportunity arise.


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