The 49ers are disapointed with their 1-1 record and the loss of Trey Lance through two weeks of the regular season. However, the swirling storylines have overshadowed some impressive performances from the Niners' defense. On Tuesday, Football Outsiders shared a wild graphic showing how far ahead of the pack San Francisco’s defense has faired in the first two games.
DVOA (which stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) aims to calculate how much value a defense adds or subtracts from opposing offenses. Obviously, defenses want to post negative numbers, expressing how far below expectation an opposing offense performs against them. Football Outsiders uses this metric on an aggregate level but also in several specific situations. In their breakdown of how defenses have fared against top receivers on opposing teams, the 49ers are lapping the field.
The 49ers have an incredible -131.9% defense pass DVOA against opposing teams' top receivers, easily the best in the NFL. The Eagles, Jaguars, Broncos, and Commanders round out the top five, but none of them have a defensive pass DVOA better than -70%.
The sample is extremely small, and the 49ers have faced two offenses without standout quarterbacks. However, it’s still a stark contrast to the Niners’ struggles to slow down opposing receivers over the past few seasons. It’s even more noteworthy that they have performed so well without starting safety Jimmie Ward.
San Francisco’s impressive numbers reflect several factors, but it’s also a credit to recent free agent signing Moody Ward and the emergence of safety Talanoa Hufanga. Ward has 10 tackles, a pair of passes defended, and an interception in the first two games of the season.
Hufanga has taken a massive jump forward in his second NFL season and looks like one of the best defenders on the team. He has been all over the field through the first two games and already has 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, three passes defended, and an interception.
This week, the 49ers defense will face its biggest challenge slowing down an opponent’s top receiver against the Denver Broncos. Russell Wilson and Courtland Sutton are easily the most proven quarterback-wide receiver combo the Niners have seen this season. We’ll see if they can continue rising to the challenge.