Where is the weak link in the 49ers defense (if there is one)?

Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers defense has pitched a shutout in the second half of their last four games, so it’s fair to wonder just how elite this group truly is.

The usual recipe for winning a Super Bowl is to have an elite-level quarterback capable of elevating the rest of the team into a championship.

It doesn’t always work that way, though, as the 2015 Denver Broncos or the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers can attest. Sometimes, having an elite-level defense can be everything.

The San Francisco 49ers might have a little more than just a game-managing quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, although that’s debatable and we won’t go down that rabbit hole here. But, what’s becoming more apparent is just how stout coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ defense is, particularly over the last four games.

Ryans and Co. have shut out their last four opponents in the second half while allowing an average of only 10 points per game during that stretch. And that was capped off by a 13-0 shutout victory over the visiting New Orleans Saints in Week 12, too.

Sure, that all came off the tail of a 44-23 whipping at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. But, knowing just how week-to-week the NFL is, the greater trend is still in the Niners’ favor.

However, with the playoff picture starting to come into focus and games taking on more meaning, should San Francisco be concerned with its defensive weaknesses?

Are there any?

49ers’ biggest defensive weaknesses after 12 weeks

It would be easy to nitpick, yes. The 49ers don’t have All-Pros at each and every position on the defensive side of the ball, and if injuries somehow forced the Niners to rely on a third-string defender, that’d be an immediate weakness right there.

Avoiding cliches and hyperbole, let’s look at each unit.

San Francisco’s defensive line, primarily responsible for generating the pass rush and making a positive impact against the run, has been without starting defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw for most of the season. Yet the 49ers are tied for the eighth-most sacks with 33, and they also rank No. 1 against the run with opponents averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.

As far as linebacker, a unit Pro Football Focus called the best of its kind heading into 2022? Well, having Fred Warner playing at an All-Pro level once again certainly helps, and his 89.6 PFF grade from Sunday’s win over the Saints is just a shade of what he’s doing.

Going into the secondary, one might find some weaknesses. Sure, the Niners would have preferred starting cornerback Emmanuel Moseley to have not suffered a season-ending ACL tear back in Week 5.

Yet, for whatever reasons, San Francisco has managed to get by with younger corners, Deommodore Lenoir and even Samuel Womack, while Charvarius Ward has locked down the starting boundary job.

Read More: Niners beat the Saints because of these key turning points

Even the veteran defensive back, Jimmie Ward, has slotted down to help out at nickel corner, thanks to the unforeseen emergence of fellow veteran Tashaun Gipson at free safety, paired with second-year pro Talanoa Hufanga, whom PFF assigned a 47.1 grade in Week 12 but who still managed a forced fumble in the game.

Any weaknesses?

In reality, some of the unsettled points at cornerback could be perceived as such, particularly with Womack’s inexperience and Lenoir’s own shortcomings. Considering neither Moseley nor also-injured-corner Jason Verrett will return to help, one might assume that spot within the secondary is the most vulnerable.

Still, covered up by a stout defensive front seven and solid safety


trio, the recent stretch of second-half shutouts suggests it’s only a minor weakness.

One that nearly every other team in the league would prefer to have.

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