Through the first two games of the season, the San Francisco 49ers have the number one ranked defense in the entire NFL. This unit has not missed a beat during this red hot start coming on the heels of three consecutive seasons where they finished with a top-five ranked defense.
Here is where the 49ers' defense ranks so far this season:
Passing defense - 1st
Rushing defense - 2nd
Total defense - 1st
Points allowed - 3rd
What's made this auspicious start even more compelling is that the 49ers still are not whole on that side of the ball. However, the return of Jimmie Ward is on the horizon and adding one of the best safeties in the NFL to a secondary that has already impressed figures to make this unit even more formidable.
Beyond that, perhaps Jason Verrett will make his return at some point as well and adds a veteran presence to a cornerback room that went from a question mark to one of the greatest strengths on the team.
There has been dominance at all three levels, but it all starts with the heart and soul of this team, the defensive line. The 49ers have flexed their depth on that unit as nine players have recorded snaps on the defensive line so far this season, and eight have recorded at least one pressure. Six of those eight have recorded multiple pressures. Nick Bosa has ten already on his own.
Bosa is a bonafide superstar, so his success comes as a surprise to nobody. What is encouraging, however are the flashes we are seeing from players like Charles Omenihu and Javon Kinlaw. They have eye-popping physical traits that are translating directly into production like this.
Another Charles Omenihu scissor swipe leading to a pressure pic.twitter.com/vGXcRIqS7w— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 21, 2022
Javon Kinlaw recorded a pressure on the very first snap of the game yesterday— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 12, 2022
Great hand placement on the outside shoulder of the LG before coming over the top with a swim move to disrupt this passing attempt by Justin Fields pic.twitter.com/DKdmmv56fj
To sum up just how dominant this group has been, the 49ers have recorded a pressure rate of 47% so far this season. That means opposing quarterbacks are being pressured on nearly half their dropbacks. However, the success up front goes beyond the pass rush, as the 49ers have allowed just 2.6 yards per carry which is the best mark in the NFL through two games.
The tandem of Arik Armstead and Kinlaw has made it extremely difficult on opposing offenses attempting to run between the tackles. In addition, Armstead and Kinlaw have been outstanding at eating blockers and filling gaps, which won't be reflected in a stat sheet but have a massive impact on the success of the league's best rushing defense.
Kevin Givens and Hassan Ridgeway have both been huge pieces on the rotation on the interior as well.
Welcome to the Kevin Givens Show pic.twitter.com/0mQLAg4cQ7— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 20, 2022
Hassan Ridgeway has quietly been an extremely valuable piece of this defense through two games pic.twitter.com/1KHSe43s9H— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 21, 2022
The biggest surprise has been how outstanding Samson Ebukam has been defending the run. Ebukam ranks second among all edge defenders in the NFL in run stop win rate at 43%, and with reps like this, it is clear why that is the case.
Samson Ebukam is the most underrated signing of the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan era— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 20, 2022
Week after week Ebukam is a disruptive force against opposing offenses pic.twitter.com/7X3wSshJS3
While the work up front has been exemplary, the contributions on the back end have been just as vital. The emergence of safety Talanoa Hufanga has been playing at a pro bowl level to start his second year in the NFL.
Hufanga displays tremendous instincts in the box and has one of the quickest triggers in the run game among anyone I've seen at his position around the league. Here are a couple of reps to illustrate just how disruptive Hufanga has been around the line of scrimmage.
The Seahawks offense only ran for 36 yards on an average of 2.6 yards per carry on Sunday— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 21, 2022
Great backside pursuit from Talanoa Hufanga here, but even more impressive is the way that four different 49ers defenders rallied to the ball to finish off this tackle pic.twitter.com/Yy3x7KIKyc
What has stood out, even more, is how stout Hufanga has been in coverage. On this rep, the 49ers defense is lined up in a quarters shell running a match zone. Mooney Ward, who is the boundary corner, passes the the receiver off to Hufanga as Tyler Lockett breaks towards the middle of the field.
As Hufanga picks up the wide receiver, he is able to diagnose where the ball is going and break on the spot to record a pass break up.
Was working on a cut up to highlight a Talanoa Hufanga PBU when I noticed something funny— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 21, 2022
Seattle’s offense ran this play with only 10 players on the field lol pic.twitter.com/cRMmXarbwI
And yes, you read that right. The Seahawks ran a play with only ten men on the field. Take a moment to soak that in; you've earned it after the last decade of matchups against Seattle.
Hufanga has also shown he can hold his own when left on an island with a tough assignment. Watch how Hufanga is able to undercut this route and get his hands on the ball to create a turnover when Tashaun Gipson reels this in for a pick.
The cornerback position has also been a massive asset for the 49ers, with Emmanuel Moseley and Mooney Ward forming quite the tandem on the outside. Mooney intercepted a pass in the red zone against the Seahawks, and Moseley has only allowed 25 receiving yards across 59 coverage snaps so far this season.
Rookie slot corner Samuel Womack has held his own in coverage while also impressing his ability to tackle in the open field. I was extremely impressed with a rep that Womack had against Seattle, where he stonewalls Seahawks tight end, Noah Fant, despite Fant having a head of steam as well as a near 60-pound size advantage.
Really impressed by this rep by Samuel Womack— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 21, 2022
49ers are in quarters with Womack to the field side
Watch how Womack covers ground & stonewalls a player in the open field who has a considerable size advantage
Noah Fant is listed at 6’4 250 lbs
Womack is listed at 5’10 189 lbs pic.twitter.com/k8LfIcNUGj
The linebackers have more than held their own as well. DeMeco Ryans coined the motto "SWARM" for this defense, which stands for Special Work ethic & Relentless Mindset. I chose a play that I thought perfectly illustrates that relentless mindset.
Watch how all three linebackers rally to the football to make this tackle and keep an eye on how much ground Azeez Al-Shaair covers.
The motto for the 49ers defense is SWARM (Special Work ethic & Relentless Mindset)— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 22, 2022
I can’t think of a better way to show that relentless mindset than the way that all of the linebackers rallied to the football to make this tackle
Look at how much ground Azeez Al-Shaair covered pic.twitter.com/TxZdK5Owxv
This group is stacked from the front seven to the back end, and we haven't even seen it peak yet in its final form. Forget all the noise about the quarterback position and the recent transition the NFL has made to favor a more offensive game. Elite defense still reigns supreme, and this group has all of the pieces needed to make a deep playoff run and beyond.