For the San Francisco 49ers, it may seem like the sky is starting to fall after losing linebacker Kwon Alexander for the rest of 2019. However, football is a team game and despite the loss, this defense is still one of the best in the league.
I was casually scrolling Twitter at work when the news broke. This was how I handled it.
This is obviously a devastating blow to defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s group. Alexander was having a tremendous campaign, his first in red and gold. He was the clear heartbeat in the middle of the defense and let his play do a lot of the talking.
You could tell when Alexander wasn’t on the field against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football. San Francisco’s defense appeared to suffer quite the regression in the second half when Alexander suffered his torn pectoral injury.
In eight games, Alexander had 34 total tackles, 22 of which were just on his own. He also snagged an interception, his first since 2017 when he was elected to the Pro Bowl for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His presence will certainly be missed because he was on the field for 361 snaps, which was 78 percent of the time.
Before we start throwing away the second half of the year, defensively, let me remind you who the second best defense in the NFL is: The San Francisco 49ers.
Since the bye week, the Niners have given up over 100 yards rushing every game, which isn’t too surprising. They tend to force the opposition to run on them, given their secondary allows next to nothing through the air. The exception to this stat line is against Arizona, when they gave up 204 yards to Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
But there is no need to hit the panic button… yet. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan still has lots of talent on this roster. In the trenches, they have defensive linemen DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and potential NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Nick Bosa. Between the three pass-rushers, there is a combined 16.5 sacks and 23 tackles for losses.
In Saleh’s group of linebackers, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw will need to keep the ship straight. Just before the 2019 NFL trade deadline, I wrote about a depth guy general manager John Lynch should have traded for in case something like this happened.
But alas, Saleh, Shanahan and Lynch will have to use whoever is on the depth chart or can make it to San Francisco before the Week 10 Monday night game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Niner Noise’s Akshaj Dwivedula broke down how Saleh can utilize who’s on the roster, currently.
Finally, the secondary, anchored by defensive back Richard Sherman, is still one of the best in the game right now. In four of the five games coming out of the bye week, the 49ers secondary gave up 100 or less yards. Thursday night’s game was the first time all season the Niners didn’t force a turnover. That’s pretty impressive, considering last season they only had two takeaways. Fellow defensive backs Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward and the others must continue to force turnovers, either through the air, on the ground or on fourth-down conversions.
The 49ers are ranked first in the league when it comes to stopping their opponents on fourth down.
As it’s been stated numerous times in the past 24 hours, losing Alexander is a huge blow to the Niners. The upcoming schedule is a bit daunting, however this team is 8-0 for a reason.
And the defense has plenty of strength elsewhere to help make up for the loss.