After the week 9 victory over the Washington Redskins, the San Francisco 49ers have pushed their record to 7-1 before returning home to face the New York Giants. A positive and consistent element in the seven victories has been the defensive performance. The defense, captained by Patrick Willis, has been seeing contributions from all over on a weekly basis.
Whether it's NaVorro Bowman making crucial third down stops, Dashon Goldson bringing the wood to set the tempo or a rookie contribution like a sack or interception by Aldon Smith or Chris Culliver, it's been a collective effort.
The saying goes, "defense wins championships," and by the look of things, some might say that the Niners have a championship worthy defense. San Francisco is strong at key positions for the defense they run and have been a top 10 defense all year. They are currently the first ranked run defense by a wide margin, while also leading defenses in forced fumbles and least points allowed.
And after this past Sunday, the 49ers brought their streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 30 straight games - and yet to allow a rushing touchdown in 2011. We've seen Willis become more vocal this year as a veteran and team leader; also probably due to the departure of Takeo Spikes in the offseason. Justin Smith, Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers have also displayed leadership as league vets.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has said this team has been playing "unselfish" and "lights out." This league is no stranger to blue collar success story teams, and the Niners seem to be that story this year. At this point, it'd be very difficult for San Francisco to somehow miss the playoffs. In fact, if the league began the playoffs today, the 49ers would have a first round bye, along with the Green Bay Packers.
This defense is capable of great things and its true test will come in the playoffs where most of the team has no experience. But the contributions and selfless team effort will be the 49ers ace in the hole. The way Tramon Williams stepped up for the Packers or the way Tracy Porter stepped up for the Saints, the Niners will depend on discipline and team contributions.
Chris Culliver, Tramaine Brock, Tarell Brown, Ahmad Brooks or even Ray McDonald, I could all see making a run for defensive MVP of the playoffs. The 49ers have the defensive personnel to successfully scheme against any team in the league because the system is built around them.
Also, a small tidbit that will really help the 49ers as they try to put together a title run, and that is tackling. The 49ers have an edge because they tackle extremely well and don't allow anything easy. They hit hard and they wrap up, and even if the offensive player is able to get by Willis or Bowman, the secondary guys can tackle too.
Whitner and Goldson are hard hitters, but Rogers and Culliver are also guys that can make big stops. San Francisco will need guys to step up if they hope to advance in the playoffs but I believe they are capable of it. This is very well built defense and Vic Fangio and the defensive assistants deserve all the credit in the world for the performance in the first half of the 2011 season.
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