No. 5: 49ers defense showing its mettle
At the end of the first half of Sunday’s game, the 49ers offense had turned the ball over four times. Over that span, the 49ers defense allowed the Steelers six points and 76 yards. The defense is the reason San Francisco was able to win its home opener and move to 3-0 on the season.
What the defense did against the Steelers, sans Roethlisberger or not, was nothing short of amazing. It is certainly not something we would have seen from San Francisco in any season after 2013. After the mass exodus of former head coach Jim Harbaugh and many talented players in 2015, the 49ers had been a shell of their former selves.
Now, in year three of the Shanahan/John Lynch regime, the team appears to be forging their identity much in the same way they did in those perennial playoff seasons. A stout defense was the main reason the 49ers went to three straight NFC Championship games from 2011 to 2013.
The offenses weren’t bad in those seasons, far from it. It was more those defenses were so good that they tended to overshadow their teammates on the other side of the ball. In fact, if the 49ers had just a bit more talent at receiver, they likely would have won the Super Bowl they went to in 2012.
The current front office appears determined to make their mark the same way on defense. Their focus and upgrades were on full display last Sunday. After Garoppolo had a pass tipped by running back Matt Breida intercepted by EDGE T.J. Watt and returned to the 49ers 33-yard line, the defense provided their first win on the day.
Rudolph completed three passes for a total of five yards on Pittsburgh’s first drive and had to settle for a field goal.
After Garoppolo’s second tipped pass for an interception, the Steelers started a drive at the San Francisco 24-yard line. After five plays that gained 16 yards, kicker Chris Boswell came on again for a field-goal attempt.
Mostert fumbled to start the second quarter and the 49ers defense again allowed five plays before forcing another Pittsburgh punt.
Garoppolo mishandled a snap for the Niners next turnover. The defense forced another (you guessed it) 3-and-out.
Then after an aborted snap which bounced off James for a Steelers recovery, the defense came through yet again. As Rudolph and Conner were leading their team down the field it looked as if they might be able to run the significant minutes off the clock. Armstead forced a fumble on a Conner run and the 49ers offense scored the winning touchdown.
In one last attempt to take the lead back, Rudolph was facing a 3rd-and-3 from the Steelers 29-yard line. EDGE Nick Bosa and Buckner were able to get to the quarterback, with the latter forcing a fumble. That brought a 4th-and-12 pass attempt, which fell harmlessly to the Levi’s turf.
The defense again saved the game.