The San Francisco 49ers defense has been playing better than almost anybody could have expected, and has been the big reason behind the team's recent two-game winning streak, and their 6-4 record. The 49ers have dealt with numerous injuries and changes on the defensive side of the ball, but somehow the unit keeps on performing.
Vic Fangio and his coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for the defensive performance, but we certainly can't ignore the play of some of these players. Through the first ten games, you could make a strong argument that Antoine Bethea has been the biggest performer. The return of Aldon Smith shows how important No. 99 is to the defense, but for what has been accomplished through ten games, Bethea gets my pick as defensive MVP.
Through ten games, Bethea has 45 tackles, one sack, three interceptions, eight pass deflections, and a forced fumble. His statistics are not always huge, but he has been a huge impact player.
On Sunday against the Giants, he was a big part of a critical stop on 4th and 1. Odell Beckham, Jr. had come up just short of a first down. The Giants ran a run with Rashad Jennings instead of a quarterback sneak. Bethea was the first player in to slow Jennings:
Bethea and Ray McDonald split credit for the tackle, and it really was a team effort. However, Bethea found the hole first to initially slow down Jennings. If the Giants had gotten that conversion, they would have had a 1st and 10 at the 49ers 42-yard line. Maybe the defense holds up, maybe not. Either way, the 49ers got a critical stop.
Plays like that can be forgotten by the end of the season, but it is one more reason he is likely in the running for an All Pro nod. If you're a believer in the "eye test", you know Bethea has been rock solid. But even Pro Football Focus stats paint a great picture. Bethea grades out as their No. 2 safety, behind Eric Weddle, 15.9 to 15.2, and is fourth among safeties in run stop percentage.
Bethea is all but assured of getting voted into the Pro Bowl, although we obviously hope the 49ers players are not available for the game. But beyond all that, he deserves some love for what are some kind of amazing post-game shoes.