No. 4: Defense Steps Up and Delivers in Crunch Time
As mentioned earlier, there were many questions surrounding this team leading up to Week 1. How the defense would fare after traveling to the other side of the country and facing not only the Buccaneers offense, but also the Tampa Bay humidity.
Throughout the entirety of the offseason, there was one commonality that continued to arise when talking about the 49ers: How could the team fail to upgrade a secondary that set an NFL modern-era record for futility with only two interceptions and seven total takeaways in 2018?
No team in the modern history of the NFL had ever finished a full season with only two interceptions until defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit did so last year. To make matters worse, not a single cornerback registered a pick, with the two the team did have coming from other positions.
The 49ers answered this question, quieting their doubters in resounding fashion as they finished the game with three interceptions and three sacks of the Tampa Bay quarterback, Jameis Winston. Even more impressive is two of those three interceptions came from cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon, both were returned for touchdowns.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch seemed to be confident, if the additions to the defensive front seven produced as envisioned, the defensive backfield problems would take care of themselves.
With a pass rush not seen around these parts since Jim Harbaugh was the team’s head coach, the 49ers forced Winston into some bad decisions. The difference between this game and those from the last two seasons is the back end of the defense capitalized on those miscues.
Rookie EDGE Nick Bosa registered the first sack of his professional career. He was also credited with six quarterback pressures. Defensive tackle Arik Armstead and EDGE Dee Ford also notched sacks, proving that more pressure on the quarterback usually translates to better secondary play.