Without their best players, the San Francisco 49ers’ have the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL. Nick Bosa is gone for the season, while Richard Sherman and Dee Ford remain sidelines with injures.
The Niners have been without some of their other starters at points this season, with K’Waun Williams, Emmanuel Moseley, Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Dre Greenlaw and Solomon Thomas — among others — all missing at least one game in 2020.
Still, Robert Saleh and the coaching staff have kept the unit rolling. The 49ers’ defense ranks in the top 10 in yards against per play, percentage of drives that end in a score and QB pressure percentage. San Francisco is giving up 19.4 points per game — fifth-lowest in the league — but a pair of their opponents — the New York Jets and New York Giants have two worst offenses in the league.
The challenge will be much more formidable this weekend against the divisional rival Seattle Seahawks. Led by quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL. Seattle averages a whopping 425.2 yards and 33.8 points per contest.
Wilson has been remarkable through six games. His 119.5 pass rating is tops in the league, with him putting up 315 yards per game. Although he’s plenty dangerous through the air, his ability to make plays with his feet is what makes him dangerous.
The 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh — who spent three seasons with the Seahawks — raves about Wilson’s ability.
“I’ve always felt that he’s one of the better quarterbacks this league has ever had. That’s my opinion,” Saleh said. “I do think he’s going to end up in the Hall of Fame one day. I probably speak for a lot of people when I say that. The man is phenomenal. He gets better every year, believe it or not. His deep ball is the best in football.”
Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll has given the keys to the offense to Wilson. The Seahawks have morphed from being a run-first team to letting Wilson control the game with his arm.
“Russell’s doing it, man. He’s an unbelievable talent,” Saleh said. They’ve got unbelievable wide receivers. Their O-Line’s blocking at a very high rate, and so with that comes a lot of yards, explosives and points.”
Wilson’s average net yards per attempt ranks fifth in the league at 8.24. As Saleh mentions, Seattle’s wide receivers are benefitting from the new-found philosophy. His primary targets, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are in the top 11 in receiving yards per game. The bruising Metcalf is listed at 6’4, 229 pounds and can run like a gazelle. Without Sherman in the lineup, San Francisco cornerback Jason Verrett knows how challenging the task will be for the 49ers’ secondary.
“Obviously, he’s a different stature, as far as with the explosion and the speed, you just got to play physical,” Verrett said. “He’s probably going to try to bully guys seen, he’s shown that on film, it’s just gonna be one of those matches where the big boy pads got to come on.”
The Arizona Cardinals put All-Pro corner Patrick Peterson on Metcalf last week, and the plan worked. The Cardinals kept Metcalf in check in their win over the Seahawks last week, holding him to just five yards.
But, with the extra focus on Metcalf, it allowed Lockett to go off. The receiver finished 115 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Saleh recognizes that this Seattle offense is different than years past, and he knows his defense will have its hands full on Sunday against a complete Seahawks attack.
“I know there was some growing pains there in the last few years, but now he’s got Lockett playing at a high level, he’s got a DK over there to relieve some stress off Tyler, so he can free up,” Saleh said. “Their tight ends are dynamic. They’ve got a tremendous amount of talent around them and their O-Line is the best it’s been in a while, so they’re tooled up and there’s a reason why they’re tops in football.”