One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the 49ers has been their highly effective rushing defense. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit has been a top-10 unit, showing improvement throughout the season. 13 games into the season, the running defense is only giving up 4.1 yards per attempt.
The biggest reason for the 49ers’ improved play as of late? Defensive end Arik Armstead, who’s set to make a hefty $9 million next season. When asked about the ex-Oregon defender, 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan added “Armstead is a very good player. There’s no doubt that I don’t want to lose him. And I don’t think anyone in this building wants to lose good players.”
Outside of that, defensive linemen DeForest Buckner, D.J. Jones and linebacker Fred Warner have been highly crucial to the success the 49ers have had in stopping opponents’ rushing attacks.
Against some top-notch running backs, the 49ers have done well in slowing them down. In Kansas City, San Francisco limited running back Kareem Hunt to 44 rushing yards on 18 attempts. When the 49ers took on the Cardinals, running back David Johnson only rushed for 59 yards. Running back Saquon Barkley — one of the best in the NFL — only gained 67 yards on 20 rushing attempts a few weeks ago against the 49ers.
San Francisco has routinely been effective in stopping the opponents from running all over them, but what should fans expect against Seattle? The Seahawks have gone back to their 2012 days, featuring the ground and pound scheme and relying on quarterback Russell Wilson in the play-action passing game. In their first meeting two weeks ago, the Seahawks rushed 29 times, while Wilson only attempted 17 passes.
Seattle has been efficient in their running attack and it wasn’t any different in a 43-16 victory, when the Seahawks ran for 168 yards. The problem was that it just wasn’t one running back, it was Chris Carson, then Rashaad Penny and even a little bit of former 49er Mike Davis.
The 49ers’ rushing defense is going to need to play a top-10 level if they’re going to have any chance against Seattle. Head coach Pete Carroll is going to employ a similar game plan, so Saleh will have to be prepared to slow them down. San Francisco should try and limit the Seahawks to under 100 rushing yards, if they want a chance to win this game, but it’s going to be their toughest challenge yet.