Monday's are always easier when the 49ers win on Sunday.
On opening day Sunday at Candlestick Park, the San Francisco 49ers took the field for the first time under the new Jim Harbaugh era. There has been a lot of change within the organization, so the performance in their first outing was going to be under heavy scrutiny. In recent years, the front seven has been the strength of the team, so I was curious to see how they would perform given the systematic, philosophical and roster changes.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh said in his press conference that philosophically he believes they need to "win sixty minutes and play full games," and the front seven seemed to have responded.
The starters up front features 4 new starters with Ahmad Brooks, Navorro Bowman, Ray McDonald and if you count Isaac Soapaga's move to nose tackle. I have to say, I was most impressed with what I saw from them, especially ol' McDonald. McDonald has been with the team since he was drafted in the 3rd round in 2007. In his first outing as an entrenched starter in the new system, he lead the team on the day in tackles, with 6, including a sack. He tied for the tackle-lead with another new starter, Bowman.
If this first game is any indication for the rest of the regular season, McDonald and Bowman showed there will be no drop-off in the defensive performance up front. The two displayed why management chose to move forward with them when they allowed Aubrayo Franklin and Takeo Spikes to enter free agency. Despite the changes, the 49ers front seven played up to par and exceeded some standards I held for their first game.
The most remarkable difference would be how the defense swarmed; gang tackling for 60 minutes and constantly putting pressure and hits on Tarvaris Jackson. And as much as I love to hear Patrick Willis' name called, I'm thrilled that he is not alone out there making tackles -- hopefully prolonging his career by decreasing the abuse on his body.
It was great to see what a force the line was with McDonald and Justin Smith collapsing the pocket play after play. However, we have to consider the Seattle Seahawks offensive line situation. The team was without new addition Robert Gallery and heavily depended on rookies to step up against a Jim Tomsula coached defensive line. What we saw from them this past Sunday may not translate against more experienced offensive lines.
New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had all the players in the front seven rotating into different positions, showing different looks and communicating pre-snap reads amongst each other. The defense was fierce against the run, allowing only 64 total rushing yards from 5 different Seahawks. The defense itself allowed only 37 total yards in the whole first half combined.
The front seven was largely responsible for the strong defensive performance; the 17 allowed points is deceptive because the only two touchdowns came from quick passes to receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, who beat the defensive backs on inside routes. The pass rush was a non-factor on those two plays because the ball was out seconds after the snap.
I also took notice of the performance of the guys up front on third down situations. Ray McDonald and Justin Smith both came up with big sacks on third down to get the defense off the field. Parys Haralson also took his game to another level as a pass rusher, recording 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. But it could be too early to say he's taken that leap for sure, given that the sacks came against an inexperienced Seattle offensive line with a new, amateur quarterback behind center. Rookie pass rush specialist Aldon Smith even found his groove as a role player in nickel situations.
The 49ers looked disciplined and more advanced from last year. The elementary play from them at times in past years when it counts, was completely non-existent against the Seahawks. I'm not saying there isn't much room for improvement, mainly because we have not seen them compete against a contender, so I believe we can get better. They may run into their fair share of issues this year against teams like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Dallas, but their play appears to be elevated and on the rise.
The defense played well together and looked comfortable in their roles Fangio has established for them. The defensive system plays to their strengths, showing how Harbaugh and Fangio plan to get the optimum performance from their players. I think we will get a better idea of what the front seven in really made of when the 49ers play the Dallas Cowboys in week 2.
Honarable Mention: Two Returns for TD's (Kickoff, Punt) by Ted Ginn Jr., totaling 157 yards in 59 seconds #Brad Seely
Follow me on Twitter: @DeSimone80