In part 1 of this article I reviewed how the 49ers’ offense performed in their dominant road win in Cincinnati. Now I look at how the 49ers’ defense performed:
- Ronald Blair stand on up! Blair had a career day in terms of effectiveness, finishing with a sack, four total tackles (which all were either TFLs or run stops), and two QB hurries. Blair is in a contract year, and having a day like yesterday is what gets players paid. According to PFF, he was the second highest graded player overall on the 49ers, finishing with an astounding 90.7 grade. Blair, who filled in when Dee Ford came out with an injury, was by far the best defensive lineman the 49ers rolled out on the day.
- Arik Armstead would also finish with a great day, as he finished with a sack and a QB hurry. Much like Blair, Armstead was effective all afternoon, as he was performing consistently in run defense and pass rushing situations.
- Outside of these two, the other defensive linemen (DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford) all performed to their own expectations. As many have speculated, the defensive line as a whole will be the 49ers’ deepest unit overall. If they keep it up, we could be looking at a top five unit in the league. Buckner, who had a poor showing in week one, bounced back in week two with a sack and three QB hurries. If both rotational players and starting players are exceeding expectations, then the 49ers could be sniffing at a playoff berth on their defense, notably the defensive line, alone.
- After getting ejected week one, Kwon Alexander played with intensity of the likes that we haven’t seen since Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Alexander caught his first interception on the season and finished as the best graded player for the 49ers according to PFF (91.5). After his first full game, Alexander already looks to be the man John Lynch paid handsomely for, as his effectiveness both in coverage and rushing defense will be the key cogs for success as a whole. His athleticism and physicality are what the 49ers have been searching for for years, and as a result, can lead this team to victories for years to come.
- Aside from him, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are both developing nicely into their own roles. If this continues, then the 49ers’ linebacker room could be one of the youngest and fastest in the entire league. Warner finished with seven tackles, four of which were solo. Greenlaw had four total, one of which was solo.
- Nothing was talked about in terms of the secondary throughout the game, which is a good thing! Though Jason Verrett was cleared to play, he was a healthy scratch on the day. The pass rush may have been predicted to mask a poor secondary, but through two games, it seems like the pass rush is not the only factor contributing to secondary success; it’s the play of the secondary overall.
- Richard Sherman looks to be in way better shape compared to last season, allowing only 15 total receiving yards in coverage on four catches. On the opposite side, Ahkello Witherspoon allowed only one catch on six targets, as well as recording a pass breakup. One thing to take away from this is Witherspoon’s growth as a player. After notoriously being put in Shanahan’s doghouse last season, Witherspoon has not only stepped up, but he’s showing out, and is arguably playing better than Richard Sherman. Is he CB1? Maybe, maybe not. If he continues to develop, then we could very well be looking at one of the league’s next best corners. At some point, Witherspoon will be taking the reins from Sherman, and when the time comes, it’s vital that he is ready to fill in one of the most questionable positions on this 49ers defense.
- As for other players within the secondary, every man neither performed poorly or exceedingly well. One thing to keep eyes on next week is the healthy of Jimmie Ward. If DC Robert Saleh doesn’t have full confidence in Tarvarius Moore, then Ward will likely be the next man up to play free safety. A lot will be determined when the Steelers come to town, and the choice between Moore and Ward could be bigger than some may think.
Overall, the team as a whole performed better than many would have thought. The last time the 49ers put up over 40 points was 2017, against the vaunted Jaguars’ defense. If what we’re seeing from this team is only a glimpse of what’s to come, then we can expect this team to make some noise in a loaded NFC West.
Next up on the ledger: The Pittsburgh Steelers, who just recently, lost QB Ben Roethlisberger for the season with a major elbow injury. The chance to go 3-0 heading into the bye looms large.