Last season, the San Francisco 49ers defense put together a run that was historical in nature. The team dominated against the run, while putting up one of the best turnover ratios in NFL history. In assessing that defense, you could make several arguments about the MVP, but Justin Smith emerged for many as "the guy" on that defense. Even though other players had bigger numbers, Justin Smith's thorough domination was a sight to behold. The fact that he was first team All-Pro as a defensive tackle AND second team All-Pro as a defensive end says plenty.
The 49ers 2012 defense has not had quite the same number of turnovers, and their sack total is down from last year, and yet there are signs that we seeing improvements in certain respects. The pass rush remains solid, even without the crazy sack numbers, and the secondary has stepped up its game. As a unit, the defense is giving up a league-low 5.8 yards per attempt, which is 1.1 yards lower than last year's 6.9 per attempt.
The rushing defense is not quite putting up the historic streak performances like last year, but they are still putting up strong performances. Currently, the 49ers are giving up 3.6 yards per carry, compared to 3.5 last season, while also having an improved run defense DVOA. Their adjusted line yards are down a little bit (3.81 this year, 3.73 last year), but otherwise, the defense remains incredibly strong.
As we head into the second half, does one particular player deserve recognition as the defensive MVP? The team operates as a complete unit, but I am inclined to go with Dashon Goldson. Guys like Patrick Willis and Justin Smith remain the "best" players on defense, but given the production we are seeing from the defense, if I had to pick one guy, I would lean towards The Hawk. His ability to play the center-field role has improved this season, which I think has helped boost the secondary's performance. Chris Culliver has shown improvement as well, but I lean more towards Goldson because of his ability to impact more of the field coming from over the top.
I was tempted by Justin Smith because I do actually think teams are game-planning around him to the point that it opens the door for other play-makers to step up. It's tempting, but I still lean towards Dashon Goldson at this point.
Matt Maiocco, Cam Inman and Matt Barrows all provided their own suggestion for first half defensive MVP. Maiocco went with Aldon Smith due to his ability to pick up the various responsibilities of an every-down outside linebacker: "There were a lot of candidates for this first-half honor for the league's top-ranked defense ... but Aldon Smith has done more than enough while defending the run and the pass to get the nod."
Cam Inman pointed to Patrick Willis as defensive MVP thus far, considering him still the centerpiece of a top-ranked defense. He also looked at the potential second half MVP and suggested Aldon Smith and Justin Smith as potential co-MVPs down the stretch.
Matt Barrows used Twitter to give Dashon Goldson the edge by a few points over Aldon Smith.
Who is your defensive MVP thus far? Or would you prefer an entire unit get the recognition?