The San Francisco 49ers have had tough defensive challenges in each of their first two games. The Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks are two of the better defenses they’ll face this season. The 49ers offense has a lot of work to do, but it certainly did not help facing those two squads coming out of the gate.
Things don’t exactly get much easier in Week 3. The 49ers host the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday Night Football, and they get a unit that likely will take some steps forward sooner rather than later. The Rams welcomed back Aaron Donald after an extended holdout. He missed Week 1, but was back last week. He was rusty in his first game back, and it might take some time to really get on track.
I took a few minutes this week to chat with the folks at Turf Show Times. Earlier today we talked Jared Goff, and now I wanted to switch to the defensive side of the ball. I asked them what the deal was with Aaron Donald’s holdout, and how he looked after an extended absence.
I think the holdout was largely designed to undercut the current CBA. Had Aaron Donald been drafted 20 picks later, he'd already be on his first post-rookie contract free agent deal and would likely be earning $20m or so more than what he's making this year. Given that he's on the fifth-year option for 2018, he's essentially sacrificing about $32m of market value to play these two seasons out. There was nothing he could really do to recoup that loss but to hold out. And while I and other fans were supportive, there was a large and perhaps equal population who were not. The fan backlash was pretty severe. And given that the Rams won so dominantly in Week 1, many from that latter audience pointed to the blowout to suggest that if Donald wasn't willing to play out his deal, the Rams could do just fine without him.
As for his first game action in Week 2, he certainly didn't look like his dominant self. But he missed numerous offseason practices, all of training camp and all of the preseason. I think it's very easy to pin that on the lack of buildup action, and it's thus easy to worry as a Rams fan that he's going to need perhaps even more live action to function as his preseason and training camp before he's fully up to Aaron Donald speed.
The Rams had a strong outing in Week 1 against a bad Indianapolis Colts team, and then had an up and down performance in Week 2 against a better Washington squad. I asked TST about the defense aside from Donald through the first two games.
The secondary has played VERY well, but the pass rush hasn't been great and the run defense has been very poor. How much of that is just a two-game anomaly and how much is a constant for 2017? I'd bet on some improvement coming in the pass rush, but I'm both excited and worried that the other two are just part of who this team is.
I was concerned about the quality of our linebackers before the season started. I'm moreso now. How is Defensive Coordinator Wade Philips going to work them into the strengths of the defense? That might determine the Rams' win-loss record heading into the Week 8 bye more than anything on offense.