The San Francisco defense, from starters on down, had another solid day last week in Kansas City, allowing only two field goals despite being placed in some awkward field positions with little green to defend.
The man who made the most impact was sophomore linebacker Nate Stupar. He showed his versatility in accruing 4 defensive stops in the run game, 3 in the pass, and added a healthy day of pressure with a sack and one hurry in only 8 pass rush attempts.
Stupar even managed to defend a pass on a blitz attempt with a well-timed leap -- though the stats won't bear that particular achievement due to a defensive penalty by Demarcus Dobbs on the play.
In coverage, he allowed one reception for 6 yards at the end of the 3rd quarter on a 2nd-and-12. The coverage was purposefully soft as Kansas City had not shown much ability to withstand pressure or throw deep, and Stupar closed in for the quick tackle as soon as the reception was made. A good play.
What impressed me most watching Stupar was his "nose for the ball." He had a knack for getting to the same hole the running back was going for and making a play. There were several instances where he was not awarded credit for the tackle, but he was right on top of the ball-carrier by the time the tackle occurred.
Perhaps an even greater distinction, however, he will be featured today on the first preseason edition of Caught on Tape!
Play #1 - A run stop
This was the only noticeable play of the day that Stupar made against the Kansas City 1st-team offense. Indeed, most of Stupar's big action came in the 2nd half. That's not to downgrade his performance, but to provide context.
On most other teams in the league, a game like Stupar had might still be enough to garner attention and challenge an incumbent inside linebacker -- but the 2012 7th round selection out of Penn State has an uphill battle to unseat Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman (is it too pretentious to call them The King and The Prince at their position?).
... but he trips over a badly trimmed piece of grass and as his momentum picks back up...
... Stupar collides with him effectively, driving him back.
#45 showed good quickness here to get around the corner and put a hit on Davis.
Play #2 - Dodge 'n' Sack
We go into the 3rd quarter now, on a 3rd and 5, with the Chiefs driving for the potential first offensive touchdown of the game.
Stupar shows blitz early and Chiefs back-up QB Chase Daniel points him out for RB Shaun Draughn to pick up.
Draughn steps forward to take care of the blitz, but Stupar does a quick move outside, avoiding the block.
Daniel has nowhere to go as #45 closes in for the sack, forcing a field goal that kept the game in reach for San Francisco.
Play #3 - Another run stop
Here we have #45 lined up on the right side at the snap.
The play is run away from him, towards the bottom of the screen.
Much like the first play, the boys up front are requiring more than their share of attention, allowing Stupar (red circle) to impede the line of scrimmage rather untouched.
As Draughn, with nowhere to go, cuts back inside, Stupar is present to stop him.
Or, rather, stuff him.
Play #4 - Shedding blocks
Coming out of college, one of the "weaknesses" of Nate Stupar as judged by scouts was his inability to "shed blocks."
Indeed, Bucky Brooks wrote the young man's draft profile for NFL.com and said exactly that:
"He will have a difficult time shedding blocks in the NFL and has limited starting experience at the position."
Even PFF, despite as mentioned awarding the former Oakland Raider their Game Ball against the Chiefs, noted the following:
"He didn't get off many blocks in the run game, but he has a nose for finding his way through traffic."
I do not know enough about Stupar's college days to comment on the Brooks assessment, but my eyes did not particularly notice what PFF is referring to in the first part of theirs.
Stupar collided into the o-line several times and caused a stir or otherwise "shed" his block and pursued the ball-carrier. The play that follows below is a great example of his tenacity, and sums up well the fantastic day he had at Arrowhead.
The Chiefs decide to counter the 49ers' heavy use of corner blitzes with some sort of rarely seen play -- I believe it's called "a wide receiver screen." You can see all the red jerseys running to lead the way as the ball makes its way to Jamar Newsome (yellow).
Stupar (white) has his eyes on the receiver and begins his own attack.
One of those charging red jerseys tumbles into Stupar, taking him out of the play early.
jk. Stupar does well to avoid most the impact and is back on his feet again a moment later.
Back in the action, #45 (white) dodges a second block on his way to confront Newsome (yellow). He makes a solid tackle as Jim Harbaugh (red) looks on from the front row.
If Stupar doesn't first shed a block and then dodge another, this play is an easy first down and more for a Kansas City squad needing only a field goal to win.
It was a clutch play in the closing minutes of the game and, with Harbaugh as close to the action as he could get, I am quite sure he noticed.
Moving forward, inside linebackers Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody still have their names in the #2 roles behind Willis and Bowman on the depth chart, but performances like these from Nate Stupar will make things interesting as the season approaches.