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Why Azeez Al-Shaair was the X-factor against the Lions

We look at what Al-Shaair did to help out the defense.

NFL: Player Headshots 2021 Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers' defense wasn't the sharpest in the victory over the Lions. But, when Azeez Al-Shaair entered the game, there was a new energy, and he was part of the reason key stops were made for the win.

We look at what Al-Shaair did to help out the defense below.

Giving sheer effort every play

Effort is what helped the Niners get to the finish line this past Sunday. Again, the defensive performance wasn't pretty, but they got the job done and looked great at times. Al-Shaair’s energy gave the defense a spark.

Samson Ebukam gets a great jump on the play when the ball is snapped. He was just a hair late from dislodging the toss on the end around.

Al-Shaair got sunken in by the flow of the play but showed relentless pursuit in the tackle from the backside of the play.

Even though the bootleg play-action pass is a staple for the 49ers, the defense still has trouble defending it when facing other teams. Al-Shaair should make a better play on the bootleg. But he does not give up on the play. These two effort plays were just the start of Al-Shaairs’ effective day.

Making an impact in pass coverage

Al-Shaair had great pass coverage reps throughout the game. Whether it was having a feel for the play or delivering hits causing that pass-catcher to drop the ball. Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn called a good game in trying to get mismatches on the linebackers.

Both of Al-Shaair’s tackles for loss came in pass coverage. Above, Al-Shaair sniffs out the running back screen.

San Francisco guarded the deep shot-play well. Forcing Goff to throw to his check down, where his running back was behind the line of scrimmage. Al-Shaair breaks as soon as the ball is thrown to make a good play in the flat.

San Francisco was still up 41-17 in the fourth quarter at this point in the game. Around halfway through the quarter, Detroit was forced to go for it on fourth and five, and Al-Shaair said no. It looks like Goff tried to throw it inside because Al-Shaair had outside leverage.

After seeing Jason Verrett go down, San Francisco started to pull starters, including Fred Warner and Nick Bosa. Still, around mid-way of the fourth quarter (4:15), Al-Shaair eliminated the easy check-down Goff thought was open.

In the second to last play of the game, Al-Shaair made another key third-down stop. It was uplifting to see Al-Shaair come back from being shaken up himself. His physicality overshadowed Dre Greenlaw, who is known to be a run-stuffer.

This third-down stop kept the pressure on the offense, and Ebukam’s pressure the following play was just as impactful on the game.


The Niners’ defense will improve in time for the Eagles. Al-Shaair needs to be featured more, whether playing more base or letting him get some reps at WILL when San Francisco is in Nickel.

I thought Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles would be the linebacker on the rise, but Al-Shaair has made his case early.