We all have our thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers performance. We can agree that this is unquestionably one of the best teams, if not the best in the NFL. The defense suffocates opposing offenses, and the offense sustains drives with the best in the NFL. That combination has made the Niners a dangerous team after seven games. Here are six thoughts on after the 49ers win.
Ron Rivera has notoriously been known for coaching an aggressive defense. If the casual fan recognizes that, Kyle Shanahan could pick that up in a play or two. Shanahan did exactly. The Panthers defenders were running in every direction besides. The “trap” play to Deebo Samuel, where the rookie wideout scored from 20 yards out, was a prime example. Multiple misdirections that led to Samuel running untouched into the end zone.
The 49ers scored five rushing touchdowns on Sunday. That wasn’t a surprise. The 49ers are one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL. Four of those five touchdowns came when San Francisco was in 11 personnel. The team has struggled to move the ball when they’ve been in 11 personnel this season, but the spacing, speed, and misdirection caused too much chaos for Carolina.
Defensive line delivers
I will always be a sacks>pressures guy, and the 49ers defense is a prime example of why. I’m well aware of how much of an indicator pressures are for success. I’ve also seen too many times where a player beats his man, pressures the quarterback, only for the quarterback to escape and find a receiver for a first down. That’s not an option when you sack the quarterback. They are drive killers. The 49ers had seven sacks against the Panthers, and whenever they did that, the drive was over. It didn’t happen against Carolina, but we’ve seen a player get a sack and take the offense out of field goal range.
San Francisco’s ability to consistently get after the passer with four players is special and will be the reason they are playing deep into the postseason. The 49ers have 27 sacks through seven games. They had 13 sacks through seven games last year and finished with 37 on the season — sacks matter.
Built for speed
One thing that stands out each and every week when you watch the Niners on defense is the team speed. They are fast at every level. The secondary can afford to jump routes knowing they can run with receivers down the field. The linebackers can shoot gaps and run around blocks. The defensive line is quick, fast, and powerful.
I wonder how much of the schedule and playing in this division specifically led John Lynch to build the defense around speed. The 49ers will face Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray twice this season. They’ll also face Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers. That’s six games against quarterbacks that are tremendous at buying time and escaping pressure. How do you neutralize them? With their own medicine.
Jimmy is fine
Jimmy Garoppolo completed 18 passes on 22 attempts for 175 yards. The yardage and interception he threw will get your attention. I’m impressed by Garoppolo continuing to find ways to avoid sacks. Remember that play where found George Kittle down the seam that was a helmet-to-helmet hit? Garoppolo subtly avoided a sack by ducking and delivered a strike to Kittle. Of his 18 completions, 12 of them went for first downs. Jimmy G keeps the offense ahead of the chains with his arms and his legs. The interceptions are frustrating, and some of the decision-making will eventually come back to bite the team, but there are too many plays like the throw to Kittle to ignore.
We keep waiting on offenses to attack the secondary, and at this point, it doesn’t look likely. The 49ers have the best defensive line in football. The secondary has been a couple of notches below them. That’s still really, really good. The front four can be impressive. The back four can be impressive. Both of these can be true.
Richard Sherman had an interception, but it was the plays Sherman made against thee run that caught my eye. On the season, Sherman has a success rate of 56%. As for Emmanuel Moseley? He’s been targeted 11 times, and only one of those passes have been successful. Moseley’s 90% success rate is off the charts, but his play has been that good in his four starts. He’s always in a position to make a play on the pass. The recognition Moseley showed on the interception was the most impressive interception on defense this season, in my opinion. He watched the slot receiver go to the flat. In most cases, that means the outside receiver is going to run a curl or a slant. It’s a “Hank” concept that is run at every level with great success. Moseley sniffed it out like a 10-year veteran.
At safety, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt continue to do their job. It’s not flashy. They’re not getting the highlights, but the duo is limiting routes, taking away the deep pass, and making open-field tackles. They’ve been impressive.
Credit where credit is due
You have to have some stones to leave a sixth-round rookie and a UDFA right tackle on an island throughout the game. Shanahan has given both of his starting tackles help these last few games, but make no mistake; they have more than held their own. Shanahan got burned on the play where the offense gave up a safety. He admitted it was a bad play-call. Justin Skule was beaten for a sack on the play, but those plays have been a rarity when he’s been on the field.
None of us saw that coming.
Brunskill looks like a keeper, honestly. In three starts, Brunskill has allowed one sack and two hurries. He sprung Deebo Samuel on his touchdown run with a key “deuce” block. We thought the offense would take a step back, missing three critical starters. Common sense would tell you any offense would. These two haven’t been the reason for any of the struggles of the offense, which is quite the compliment for a pair of tackles that came into the season with zero expectations of playing. Credit the coaching staff for getting them prepared, but credit Skule and Brunskill for stepping their respective games up and playing at a level the offense needed them to.