Bye Week 49ers State of The Union Address: Defense


The 49ers  reach the bye week at 5-1 having played their best football since 1998.  It’s a good time to be a 49er fan, in a 2 part series I’ll take a look at what got the 49ers to 5-1 and what to expect the rest of the 2011 season with some outlandish predictions sprinkled in. 

The defense has emerged as one of the elite units in the NFL and nobody has run on this team in a long time dating back to last season.  Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman form the best inside linebacker duo in the NFL.  No other team has 2 guys that can run all game long and stop the run like the 49ers do hats off to Trent Baalke  once again for his confidence in Bowman allowing veteran captain Takeo Spikes  to walk in free agency in favor of Bowman. 

While the star linebackers get a lot of the credit for the 2nd leading run defense in the league the defensive line deserves a big share of the credit.  Justin Smith has been remarkable this year, I swear he looks better and better every year, a relenting DE that has set himself apart as the best 3-4 DE in the NFL.  Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald have done fantastic jobs in their new roles as well Sopoaga being shifted back to nose tackle and McDonald being inserted into the starting lineup after being a backup his entire career has thrived.  Sopoaga replaced veteran Abrayo Franklin and has reinforced the teams decision to keep him over Franklin by giving the line more push up the middle taking up more of the guards attention and allowing the edge rushers more room to operate.   McDonald is an upgrade at DE over Sopoaga in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme because he’s a better pass rusher, in Fangio’s defense compared to Greg Manusky is that the DEs are expected to get pressure as well.  McDonald has excelled in the run game also which the big question mark was coming into the season.

The pass rush has emerged with rookie Aldon Smith leading the way with 6 sacks, a forced fumble, a safety and 3 passes defended.  Justin Smith and Ray McDonald have done a fantastic job whether lined up outside or inside when the team goes to a nickel or other 4 man down line as they often do.  Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks have done their jobs sealing the edges in the run but aside from Haralson’s week 1, 2 sack performances neither has had a signature game but both have been solid. 

The defensive backfield was the biggest question coming into the season and while the 49ers  haven’t been great they have done their jobs.  Carlos Rogers already has 3 INTs and is one of the best free agent bargains this season, 3rd round pick Chris Culliver has looked great since getting extended time due to injuries, Tarell Brown has been much better than expected in his starting role and is maturing as an NFL CB but I still think Culliver will his position before the year is over.  If one player could be on the trading block or possibly be cut by the Niners it might be CB Shawntae Spencer.  With Tramaine Brock not expected to be out too much longer and the emergence of Brown and Culliver, Spencer may not have any playing time.  I wouldn’t trade or cut loose a veteran CB unless I knew his injury was going to linger or I could get someone better but if a veteran is traded before the deadline or cut in favor of a sudden position of need look for it to be Spencer.   I would be shocked if any other CB on the roster were let go at this point the way they are playing. 

Overall this is one of if not the best defensive units in the NFL.  The best part about it is among the elite defenses in the league the 49ers are the youngest.  This unit is and has a chance to be a special group for years to come. 

Tomorrow: Offensive and Special Teams Coverage along with my outlandish predictions for the rest of 2011. 

Follow me on twitter @Matt_NinerNoise

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