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49ers vs Raiders: Five defensive plays that stood out

DeMeco Ryans’ blitzes caused problems for the Raiders.

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Las Vegas Raiders v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers' defense showed out against the Raiders on Sunday. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ aggressive play-calling meshed with the defensive line play will give QB’s nightmares this season.

Again, the Raiders starters didn't play, but you still got a feel for different things Ryans will do through the season.

Ryans answered these questions prior to the game: Where do you think the defense is right now? Are you feeling good just generally about it?

“I’m feeling really good about where we are. All of our guys, I just love the way they come to work every day. These guys are out here. This probably was our best practice today. And to be this far ahead in camp and it’s just both sides, defense and offense. I thought it was a very competitive practice on both sides. I just love the mentality of our defense. Guys are swarming to the ball. They’re doing everything we’re asking them to do. They’re playing fast, they’re playing aggressive and they’re playing for each other. They’re communicating really well. So, I couldn’t ask for our defense to be in a better space than they’re in now.”

Here are a handful of plays that stood out during Sunday’s win over the Raiders.

49ers tell the Raiders they are not running the ball

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden tried to stick to his roots by establishing the run early, but the Niners front-seven weren’t having it. San Francisco’s defensive line looked great — which is encouraging as Nick Bosa, and Dee Ford did not play.

One of the most notable performances Sunday was Jaquiski Tartt. He flew around in coverage and made several key third-down stops, like the one in the third clip below:

When you add Bosa and Ford, it maximizes the defense. However, missing their production when rushing the passer is an understatement.

According to Pro Football Focus, San Francisco’s team pressure rate dropped over 10 percentage points from 39.0% in 2019 to 28.4% this past season. As a result, the 49ers were relying on players of Dion Jordan’s caliber to make plays.

The 2021 pressure rate could end up being higher than 2019’s with these guys. The depth along the defensive line is jaw-dropping.

Ryans sends six on the third-down blitz

Ryans has been aggressive on third downs throughout the preseason. He sends six defenders (in the clip below) and drops Arden Key into man coverage. You can see quarterback Nathan Peterman call something at the line of scrimmage. He likely recognized man coverage.

Ryans did a good job of disguising Cover 0 to make it look like Cover 1. Talanoa Hufanga lines up on the slot receiver and fires out to blitz with perfect timing. Tartt picks up who Hufanga was initially lined up to cover.

In 2020, San Francisco's blitz rate took a major jump to 33.6% compared to 20.9% in 2019, per Pro Football Reference. Seeing how comfortable Ryans is in man coverage, I would expect that number to jump even more if “he wants to take the ball away.”

Zach Kerr gets the sack of the day

San Francisco's defensive line came up big again with six quarterback hits and three sacks. They were able to get penetration on the Raiders all game. The sack below happened right after Jordan Willis got one on second down.

Kerr’s sack might've been the best pass-rush move in the preseason for the Niners. His celebration was great, and the reaction on the sidelines from his teammates afterward was even better.

Who will replace Maurice Hurst? Kerr and Kentavius Street were the options, and San Francisco should lean to Street. Kerr has performed well through the preseason games. However, Street is better suited for the team. His athleticism gives him the edge over Kerr.

If Kerr is cut, he will definitely make an impact on someone's defense immediately.

Outlook

I wondered how different Ryans’ defense would look compared to Robert Saleh’s? In the light of preseason, we got a good sample. The front-seven will continue to be dominant, and Ryans look to match that with aggressive blitzes. Through all the quarterback controversy, we can all agree on this defense being dominant in 2021.