The San Francisco 49ers quarterback competition is going to be top billing for much of the preseason, but the defense did some impressive stuff for stretches on Sunday. It was far from a perfect performance, but the starting unit and some notable reserves provided some reasons for optimism. And if I had to pick one side of the ball to give us the most reasons for optimism this season, it’s the defense.
Pro Football Focus has graded out the game, and posted some of the grades. Most are not accessible anymore to the general public, so we won’t be using a ton of their grades and stats. But I’ll try and find what I can to give us a little more context for our discussions.
Among defensive players, linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong graded out best, with three stops on five run plays. Armstrong is competing with Michael Wilhoite and Gerald Hodges for the starting ILB job. The three of them rotated in with NaVorro Bowman, and then got some additional snaps after Bowman departed.
The 49ers pass rush was inconsistent at times, but the unit did get some positive marks. Tank Carradine led the way in pass rush grade, followed by Corey Lemonier, and Nick Bellore.
Top pass rush grades on #49ers D went to Carradine (1 hit, 2 hurries), Lemonier (3 hurries, batted pass), and Bellore (1 sack, two hits).— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) August 15, 2016
Tank was making his in-game debut as an outside linebacker. He was unable to set the edge on a run, and people will rightfully jump on that. He went inside instead of outside, and was out of the play fairly quickly. But from a pass rush perspective, it’s a good step forward for the new OLB.
Eli Harold and Ahmad Brooks will likely be the starting outside linebackers the first four weeks during Aaron Lynch’s suspension. Tank could get some normal OLB work, but if Harold and Brooks remain healthy, I would have to think we see Tank primarily in an edge rusher role. As a nickel and dime pass rusher, he brings plenty of value. And considering he is hitting free agency, his best bet next offseason might be landing as a 4-3 edge rusher somewhere else. But for now, I imagine most of the time we see him on the field in the regular season will be in pass rush situations.