The San Francisco 49ers defense is playing at a level that few defenses have in the past decade. It’s early, but a five-game sample size is enough for me to realize that this unit is the real deal. I pulled some stats that I think help illustrate how well the Niners have played on this side of the ball.
Limiting the big play
The 49ers defense has allowed the fewest explosive plays in the NFL this season. It’s not as if that number is skewed because the 49ers are struggling against the pass and killing it against the run. Nope. They’ve allowed the fewest in both the run and the pass. Only seven explosive pass plays, the next closest is Buffalo with ten. Five explosive run plays. That bests the Patriots by one. Teams don’t have the time to throw the ball down the field, and when they have, it hasn’t worked out. The long run plays the defense has allowed have been few and far between. Thanks to Robert Saleh’s adjustments, they rarely happen. Five in five games is pretty impressive.
Dominant drive stats
Football Outsiders keeps track of stats per drive that help paint a much better picture than the traditional stat. They don’t include any fancy graphs or consist of crazy formulas. Yards per drive points per drive, how many plays the offense is running on you per drive. The 49ers are the top three in just about every statistic.
San Francisco is allowing 19.91 yards per drive, which is second to New England. They’re third in points per drive, which trails the Pats and the Bills. Third in turnovers per drive. Second in interceptions per drive. You know the 49ers aren’t a fluke when you look at plays per drive. A simple stat that tells you, San Francisco, is getting off the field. The defense is second at 4.95 plays per drive. The 49ers are forcing a three-and-out 48% of the time. Forty. Eight. The next closest team is Buffalo, who are five percentage points below San Francisco. Drive success rate measures the percentage of series that result in a first or touchdown. The Niners are second at 56%.
I have three siblings that live in Seattle, and one of them is season ticket holders to the Seahawks. Even the most die-hard Seahawk fans have no argument against the 49ers defense.
Getting home with four
The 49ers are the best defense in the NFL when it comes to producing sacks and quarterback hits on plays where they don’t blitz, aka rush four or fewer. The best way to describe the pass rush is exhausting. They keep coming and coming and eventually wear you out. The defense sacked Baker Mayfield after rushing two players. San Francisco is leading the league in adjusted sack rate by nearly a full percent.
Seattle is the fifth-worst at creating pressure with four rushers. Good thing they traded for Clowney!