SF 49ers position grades, analysis following surprising win over Cardinals

Quarterback C.J. Beathard #3 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Quarterback C.J. Beathard #3 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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Ahkello Witherspoon, SF 49ers
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

SF 49ers defensive grades

The SF 49ers defense was undermanned yet outclassed the Cardinals for 60 minutes, showing a great adaptability to the issues that plagued them Week 1 when Arizona took full advantage of Robert Saleh’s defense in its season-opening win.

Defensive Line: B+

Against the run and in supplying pressure, the Niners’ makeshift defensive line, sans defensive tackles Javon Kinlaw and Kevin Givens, and of course the missing edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford who both played Week 1, managed to get it done. The pressure was constant from the line, and the hustle was certainly there, especially from players like D.J. Jones and Kerry Hyder Jr., who now has a career-best 8.5 sacks on the year.

The one issue for the defensive line was finishing plays with pressure, an issue with contain that wasn’t resolved from Week 1.

However, although it was a prevalent issue, it didn’t undermine the majority of their work, so I won’t ding them too much. Given the athletes on the edge, any rush by Kyler Murray gives him the advantage, but by and large, the line did what it had to do.

Linebackers: A+

I don’t understand why it seemed Murray was going out of his way to target linebacker Fred Warner on every play. He showcased exactly why he is the best middle linebacker in football, finishing with an astounding 14 tackles on top of his stellar — and I do mean stellar — coverage play.

Warner had only two off-coverage plays by my eye, and one of them was him being beat deep by a speedster receiver when the safeties didn’t rotate over, so really he only had one issue, a play where he didn’t roll with a middle crosser.

Dre Greenlaw also had a good game by his own right, with his sure tackling when he gets his hands on a player along with good coverage.

And Azeez Al-Shaair had himself a nice hit on Murray trying to escape the pocket. Great work from the linebacking corps.

Secondary: A

Defensive back Tarvarius Moore had a bad play on a deep shot to Cardinals tight end Dan Arnold, but other than that snafu, Moore was electric when tackling. Safety Marcell Harris also had a bad play on that deep shot Warner was involved in, but his tackling was electric. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon finished the game with an interception and pretty phenomenal coverage the entire way through, showcasing the talent and potential the Niners saw in him and thought was actualized in the early parts of 2019.

The real story of the game, though, is cornerback Jason Verrett, who was given the challenge of locking down Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Given that Hopkins constituted most of the Cardinals offense in Week 1, it was the biggest matchup of the game.

And Verrett dominated it.

He was matched up against Hopkins, played aggressively and played through his hands constantly. Hopkins never felt comfortable, particularly on that end-zone pass breakup by Verrett that saved a touchdown.

This was the type of star cornerback performance good teams need: a player who can take on the challenge of a top receiver and play them well. Tremendous work by Verrett.