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Grading the 49ers’ defensive performance vs. Rams

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After another DOMINANT performance, how did the 49ers’ defense grade out against a high-powered Rams’ offense?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

All week, the 49ers’ defense had to sit and listen to members of the media claim that they had not defended any team with a potent offense. The media claimed that head coach Sean McVay’s offense would roll over the San Francisco defense or that wideouts Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods would be too much for San Francisco’s defensive backs.

Despite everything that was said, here’s what the 49ers’ defense was able to accomplish on Sunday. They held the Rams to 165 total yards on offense, which was the lowest by a Rams’ team since 2016. The Rams only had 56 yards net through the air, which was the lowest by a 49ers’ opponent since 2010. The 49ers’ defense held the Rams to 0-13 on third and fourth down — a statistic that will win games no matter how your offense plays.

Quarterback Jared Goff, McVay, and the Rams’ offense were scrambling for answers on Sunday after dropping their third game in a row. In the other locker room, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was being lauded for putting together an elite game plan to limit the Rams’ offense. Here are the grades for the 49ers’ defense.

Defensive Play Calling — A+

Saleh was Sunday’s MVP. The video of Saleh celebrating on the sideline as the 49ers make a fourth-down stand on the goal line represents all the hard work that he puts in during the week.

The 49ers brought pressure at exactly the right times, rushed four, and dropped into coverage at the right times, and it seemed like they were in all the right spots when they needed to be. The defense is really talented, but Saleh is pulling all the strings to push this group in the right direction.

Defensive Backs — A

Corner Jimmie Ward has been written off all season long, but when his number was called upon on Sunday, he came up humongous. On back-to-back plays in the third quarter, Ward came up with a PBU and forced a Rams’ fourth down. While the knock on him has been his health, Ward’s insertion into this defense has been awesome.

Safety Jaquiski Tartt continues to lay the wood and remains one of the more underrated names on this defense. Tartt has stayed healthy all season and continues to lay the wood against opposing offensive players. He plays closer to the line of scrimmage and is highly effective in stopping the run game.

Corners Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley have been mirrors on the outside, shadowing the wide receivers really well. Cooks, Kupp, and Woods, were limited to seven catches on the day for 35 yards. Before the game against the 49ers, the three receivers normally average over 200 yards per game.

Linebackers — A

As for linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner like to call themselves, the “Hot Boyz” was on fire this past weekend, racking up 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one quarterback hit. I’ve long said that Alexander was the most important addition to a 49ers’ defense that desperately needed a second linebacker next to Warner.

The other newly-acquired 49er, linebacker/pass rusher Dee Ford, was abusing the Rams’ offensive line. He finished the game with 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. After Bosa had his most effective game in the red and gold last week, Ford was the superstar on Sunday.

Defensive Line — A+

No better group in the NFL. Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa, D.J. Jones, Ronald Blair III, and Solomon Thomas have developed into highly effective linemen under the tutelage of new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.

The defensive line continued to live in Goff’s backfield all afternoon long and limited the Rams’ running game to 109 yards. They finished the afternoon with four sacks and six quarterback hits, causing Goff to throw the ball a lot sooner than he’d hoped to.

San Francisco’s defense is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the following categories:

  • Turnovers per game
  • Rushing Touchdowns per game (none!)
  • Total Yards allowed
  • First Downs allowed

It continues to one of the most dominant units in the NFL, probably second-best behind New England’s defense. Now they go onto a Washington team that has not found any success offensively.