Strength #2: The Back 7 on Defense
The 49ers defense as a whole may not be as good as it was back in 2019, but one place that it has certainly improved from 2019 is the "back seven" - the linebackers and secondary.
In 2019, the 49ers linebackers, nicknamed by Kwon Alexander as the "Hot Boyz", were youthful and still growing in their position. But in 2023, they are, uncontroversially, the best linebacking unit in the NFL. It all starts with Fred Warner, who was a second-year signal caller in 2019, but is now the best linebacker in the NFL. Warner warps offenses by taking away the middle of the field; he is by far the best cover linebacker in the NFL. Dre Greenlaw, who entered 49ers lore in 2019 with his tackle of Hollister to seal the NFC West in 2019, is the thunder to Warner's lightning, a hard-hitting throwback linebacker. It's close between the two units, but the edge goes to the 2023 49ers linebackers.
The secondary is where the real difference comes. Richard Sherman was in the limelight of his career, and although he played well for the 49ers, injuries and age had sapped him of the explosiveness necessary to truly keep up with the Chiefs receivers. Charvarius "Mooney" Ward, though, should have no such issues. While not as decorated as Sherman, Ward has played exceptionally well this year. At the second cornerback spot, the 49ers rotate in Deommodore Lenoir or Ambry Thomas, while back in 2019, they played Emmanuel Moseley out there. Lenoir is probably better than Moseley, but Ambry Thomas is certainly not - and as such in nickel formations, the 2023 49ers do lose a little.
At safety, Tashaun Gipson has been admirable, while Ji'Ayir Brown has been learning on the fly, while the 2019 49ers had the long-time crew of Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward. This could be a wash as well. But overall, the 49ers back-seven is more cohesive and explosive than they were in 2019, a good sign given when this defense does struggle compared to its early counterparts.