One of the few highlights of the 49ers 16-6 loss last night was another strong effort from the rush defense. It's a good/bad thing for the defense given the struggles in the passing game, but the effort is noteworthy nonetheless.
The 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown in twelve games and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 33 games. The eleven games without allowing a rushing touchdown this season ties the record to start a season, set by the 49ers and and Browns in 1992. The 33-game streak is third since the start of 2000, behind the Ravens (39) and Vikings (36).
The best example of the 49ers rush defense came in the second quarter. On the first play of the Ravens drive, Torrey Smith drew a 50-yard pass interference penalty that set the Ravens up at the 49ers 15 yard line. Ray Rice followed that with a nine-yard run and Vonta Leach added two more to set the Ravens up with first and goal at the 49ers four-yard line.
On first and goal, Ray Rice rushed for three yards. On second down, the Ravens brought in a tackle eligible as an extra blocker and sent tight end Ed Dickson in motion from left to right, loading up the right side of the line.
Flacco handed the ball off to Rice again who tried to go off-tackle to the right. Dickson attempted to block C.J. Spillman and did get an initial hand on him. On the bottom right side of the picture below you'll see a Ravens player with a hand on a player. That's Dickson versus Spillman. I don't have an art tool to circle, so hopefully that clarifies the picture.
Spillman (#27, a little fuzzy below) blows past Dickson with relative ease. I don't know if Dickson thought Rice was going to break inside because if he knew Rice was making for the corner, it was a bad block. It wasn't great either way, but more so given how Rice was trying to get outside.
Spillman gets in on Rice and flips him pretty easily for the stop. It wasn't a complete wrap-up, but it took Rice down for a huge four-yard loss.
The next play saw Joe Flacco attempt a QB keeper that never really got going. He took the snap, dropped back and then made his way forward. He ran into one of his lineman and never really had a chance from there.
Normally we see the crazy athleticism of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman on plays like this. However, even guys like Spillman can get in on the action. The 49ers pass defense may have had some struggles, but running backs simply cannot consistently get to the corner for big runs. The team needs to make some adjustments when dealing with big play threat like Torrey Smith (third in the NFL in yards per catch), but having a strong rushing defense at least puts them in a better position before it gets into those passing downs.