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Kevin Givens and Hassaan Ridgeway have been the unsung heroes on defense

Both players have stepped it up with Kinlaw and Armstead out

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Whenever the 49ers and their vaunted defense are mentioned, the discussion almost always starts with Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, or even Talanoa Hufanga as of late. But what often gets overlooked is the massive impact that the big fellas on the interior of the defensive line have had on the 49ers' defense, being an elite unit for the fourth consecutive year.

They may not possess the same flash that the edge rushers or the stars in the secondary do, but make no mistake about it; the work being done in the trenches is just as important to the success of this defense as the contributions from any other position group.

So I will be introducing a new series that I will aim to do weekly that shines a light on a player or two whose effort on the line of scrimmage may have gotten lost in the fold. The first installment of #RespectTheTrenches is going to be focused on the interior of the defensive line, with Kevin Givens and Hassan Ridgeway, in particular, stealing the show.

With Javon Kinlaw ruled out of Monday’s game and Arik Armstead at less than one hundred percent, Givens and Ridgeway were tasked with carrying a heavy load against a potent Rams offense. Givens and Ridgeway each recorded over 30 snaps on the interior, pacing the 49ers' defense in this game.

Plenty of 49ers fans are familiar with Givens as he embarks in his fourth season with the team, but Monday night felt like a coming-out party of sorts for Ridgeway, who inked a one-year deal this offseason that looks like a bargain thus far at just a 1.8 million dollar cap hit.

Ridgeway is listed at 6’3 305 pounds, and when the 49ers brought him in, he was largely profiled as a gap-stuffing, block-eating big man who would provide solid depth on base downs with his ability to stuff the run. Before I get into why he has been more than that thus far, I want to illustrate why he has been so valuable in that role as a run-stopper.

The 49ers' defense is currently allowing just 2.8 yards per carry this season, which is the best mark in the NFL through four weeks. The success the 49ers have had as a unit is a direct result of a symbiotic relationship at all three levels of the defense, but it all starts up front.

One area where the 49ers have had tremendous success on the defensive side of the ball under DeMeco Ryans has been their ability to slow down the inside running game for opponents. That is often attributed to Ryans’s usage of shading a 2i tech over, which disrupts the timing of centers working to their assignment at the second level.

There was a great example of this Monday night against the Rams. Ridgeway is shaded as the 2i, forcing the center to work horizontally before getting vertical to block the linebacker.

On this play, the center’s assignment at the second level was blocking Dre Greenlaw. Still, Ridgeway utilized his size and technique to prevent the center from getting off the combo block and, as a result, opened the A-gap for Greenlaw to make a play on the ball carrier and blow up this rushing attempt.

These are the kind of plays in real time where the credit is immediately given to the linebacker for making the play, while the dirty work done by Ridgeway in the trenches gets overlooked.

However, Ridgeway’s contributions in this game weren’t just limited to slowing down the Rams' rushing attack. Ridgeway had a couple of big-time pressures in a pivotal win, including this sack in the fourth quarter, which came as a direct result of a ferocious bull rush by Ridgeway.

In the second half, Ridgeway had another massive hit on Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford. While the pressure didn’t result in a sack, Ridgeway was still able to deliver a punishing blow that left Stafford feeling the effects of all 305 pounds of Ridgeway driving him into the turf.

Ridgeway finished the evening with three pressures, one sack, and one quarterback hit.

Anyone familiar with my work probably already knows how I feel about Givens. He is one of my favorite players to watch on this team, and it feels like every week, he is doing something that jumps off the screen, even if it doesn’t always show up in a box score.

Givens recorded multiple pressures against the Rams, including this near sack where it looks like tackle Joe Noteboom might have gotten away with a bit of a hold as Givens closed in on Stafford.

Givens's contributions to disrupting the Rams' passing attack weren’t just limited to the pressures he created. Givens was able to get his hands on a pass intended for Cooper Kupp, getting his hands up to deflect this ball at the line of scrimmage.

While Givens's contributions on passing downs have been invaluable, where he has really shined has been his ability to wreak havoc on opposing rushing attacks. Givens has five tackles for loss in the last three games and has recorded at least one in each of those three games.

Watch how Givens explodes into the backfield to blow up this rushing attempt behind the line of scrimmage.

With Armstead dealing with a foot injury and the status of Kinlaw being uncertain at the moment, expect Givens and Ridgeway to continue to play a major role on this loaded 49ers defense on their upcoming road trip to the east coast for the next two weeks.