For a second consecutive year, the San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) have led the NFL in players voted to the Pro Bowl. In back-to-back seasons, the Niners will be asked to send 9 of their best to Hawaii.
With all things considered, sending 9 of 22 starters is not bad. But of those nine players, six of them were defensive starters for San Francisco. And even though it was a league- and fan-wide poll, the 49ers had three tandems on defense voted in.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Niners focused on learning each other’s assignments this offseason. It was about communication, fluidity and cohesiveness, and it resulted in a number of 49ers players working particularly well in tandem.
It’s clear that they play off one another, which helps them be more successful as a unit.
The pair of All-Pros have been dominant together. As if they were separated at birth, Willis and Bowman fly around the field, looking like carbon copies of one another. They are two of the harder tacklers in the league and bring the athleticism to do things most inside backers can’t.
They captain this unit together, and relay what they see to the rest of this defense. As individuals, either one could lead a defense alone – but together, they are so much more.
This year marks their first year going to the Pro Bowl together. Bowman was snubbed last year; meanwhile, Willis has not missed an invite since joining the league in 2007.
"Once again, it shows that the caliber that everyone is playing, and the caliber that he [Justin Smith] is playing with…" – Aldon Smith, LB
This has become one of the more well known tandems in the NFL. With this duo, the 49ers have youth and experience, as well as speed and strength. They bring incredible energy to the right side of San Francisco’s defensive line.
With the arrival of Aldon Smith in 2012, the Niners instantly added a dimension to their already stout defensive unit.
Their combination of physical gifts makes it very difficult for offenses to game plan for. Besides their obvious speed, strength and size, they also have great individual motors and are cerebral attackers. The Niners employ the stunt to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Justin Smith creates congestion up front, while Aldon Smith maneuvers through traffic and cleans up the play. They understand each other's gifts and have that in mind when the ball is snapped. They do their best to help one another succeed, which ultimately helps the team as a whole.
"When you win football games as a team, when everybody buys into the system, when you play well as a unit – especially on the defensive side of the ball, which I’m apart of – then that’s when you get recognized. It’s just a testament to our collective success together and collective hard work. And when you go out there and play well, a lot of guys are supposed to get recognized." – Donte Whitner, S
Even after mentioning four fearsome players in the 49ers front seven, the deeper we get into San Francisco’s defense, the scarier it gets.
The team’s hardest hitters may in fact be in their secondary. Enter the Lumber Co., made of Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. These two are a perfect complement to one another, bringing unique skills to the table. But at the end of the day, they are well-rounded players individually.
Golson has emerged as one of more efficient ball hawks in the league, but has also built a reputation as a fierce hitter. His focus is possession of the football; Goldson can outleap his opponents, jump routes or jar the ball lose with body-rattling hits.
Meanwhile, Whitner has been the veteran the 49ers needed in the secondary – particularly at safety. He has been a humble, hard-working guy that is as blue-collar as any player on San Francisco’s roster.
Also, both players are very talented and provide great support against the run.
Goldson and Whitner tackle through guys, setting their sights yards behind their intended target. They have an incredible follow through, striking fear into the hearts of their opponents. Going forward, tight ends and receivers know their capabilities, and proceed with caution when going deep or over the middle.