49ers ‘elite’ defense leaves no doubts after Rams beatdown
By Peter Panacy
It might have been fair to question if the 49ers defense was actually elite after playing sub-par competition early in 2022, but a Rams beatdown suggests otherwise.
The San Francisco 49ers just answered any questions that might have existed over the first three weeks of the 2022 season.
Sure, the Niners entered their Week 4 contest against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football with a defense that was leading the league in allowing less than 4 yards per play, either at the very top or at least in the top five of every significant category.
However, having faced lackluster offensive competition in the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos between Weeks 1 and 3, there were clearly some doubters who thought coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ defense was, well… a bit overrated.
A 24-9 San Francisco victory, which included keeping head coach Sean McVay’s offense out of the end zone entirely, all but erased whatever doubts there should be on what the 49ers can do on that side of the ball.
49ers defense did more than just impress vs. Rams in Week 4
Sure, LA might have its share of offensive struggles this season. However, the potency will be there in the wake of Los Angeles’ Super Bowl win last February and the fact All-Pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp is a legitimate force.
And while Kupp had an astounding 122 yards on 14 catches, his impact was minimal.
Instead, the story of the game was the Niners holding the Rams to just 257 yards of offense, a mere 3.5 yards per play, while sacking quarterback Matthew Stafford a whopping seven times.
EDGE Nick Bosa had two of those sacks, continuing his sack streak to start the year, while fellow edge rusher Samson Ebukam added two more sacks, including forcing a fumble to put the game on ice towards the end of regulation.
Bosa might be an early candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award based on what he’s done so far this season.
And that still came in light of San Francisco missing two key pieces of its defensive line, Javon Kinlaw, who was inactive with a knee injury, and Arik Armstead, who had to exit midway with a foot injury.
Sure, the 49ers paid attention to the rest of the secondary during the offseason, but the continued featuring of the D-line will be what carries this team deep into the playoffs.
Speaking of that secondary, giving second-year pro Talanoa Hufanga the starting strong safety job while letting veteran longtime starter Jaquiski Tartt walk in free agency is paying off handsomely.
With Hufanga seemingly making big plays every week, his pick-six touchdown off Stafford toward the end of the fourth quarter was about as clutch as it gets:
All told, Hufanga and the rest of the Niners defense kept Los Angeles from registering a single play of 20-plus yards during the game.
Read More: Talanoa Hufanga a budding bright spot in 49ers defense
49ers defense earns ‘elite’ designation after Week 4
Taking into account the entirety of San Francisco’s season thus far, the 49ers defense
is classified as the No. 1 group in the NFL a quarter of the way through the year.
Just take a look at the rankings:
- Points allowed: 46 (first)
- Yards allowed: 938 (tied for first)
- Yards per play: 3.8 (first)
- Pass yards allowed: 645 (second)
- Rush yards allowed: 293 (second)
- Yards per rush allowed: 2.9 (first)
The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs might hold the edge in pass and rush yards allowed, respectively, but it’s the entire effectiveness of Ryans’ defense that should stand out.
And sacks? Well, the Niners defense is tied for second most through the year with 15. Only the Philadelphia Eagles have more with 16.
San Francisco now has a chance to pad-stat their top defensive numbers in Weeks 5 and 6 with road matchups against the offensively challenged Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, respectively.
Yet it’s that beatdown of the Rams that truly solidified the 49ers as an elite defense thus far into 2022.