Fred Warner was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after one of the better performances you’ll ever see from a linebacker:
Warner accomplished this feat on merely 36 snaps, where he had an interception, a forced fumble, a sack, with a few run stops for the cherry on top. Fred’s most impressive play may have been on a target 60 yards down the field against Brandin Cooks to force an incompletion before the half.
Congrats to Warner on an award that he’s likely to win again this season. We’re not far off from his running mate, Dre Greenlaw, winning that award, either.
Greenlaw didn’t have the splash plays that Warner did, but he finished the game with a sack himself, three run stops, and allowed two yards on five targets. On the season, Greenlaw is third amongst all defenders in EPA per target. Greenlaw’s taken his game to another level, but his intent and physicality forced the Cowboys receivers to make business decisions all night. Dre is a bad man who was everywhere.
The analysis leading up to Sunday night was that the 49ers couldn’t stop the run. That Dallas finally had their starting offensive line intact and would be able to move the ball up and down on the field against a defense that came into the week 30th in EPA per rush allowed.
Dallas ran the ball 19 times for 57 yards and only had one rush for ten yards or longer. San Francisco jumped from 30th to 19th in EPA per rush allowed after their Week 5 performance.
Sunday night was supposed to be a step-up in class game for both units. The 49ers defense had only been challenged in Week 2, while Dallas’s offense had been rolling, save for a hiccup against the Cardinals.
With a healthy offensive line, Dallas was no match for Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Javon Hargrave. Bosa was relentless as always, with seven pressures and three run stops. Hargrave only made a couple of plays, but they came at a time when the defense needed it the most and led to them getting off the field. And Armstead continues to fly under the radar and be disruptive.
Pro Football Focus tracks “win percentage” for defensive lineman. The 49ers have three defensive tackles inside of the top 15. Hargrave is third — he’s winning 20 percent of his reps, while Aaron Donald is at 20.6 and Jalen Carer is at 20.9 percent. Armstead is tenth at 16.2 percent, and Javon Kinlaw is right behind him at 15.4 percent.
Unsurprisingly, Bosa ranks second in the same category amongst edge rushers. Enter, Randy Gregory. If he can give the defense anything that resembles a consistent pass rush, Bosa’s comments earlier this season about this line being better than 2019 will come to fruition.
This was also a game where the 49ers secondary would be tested. Ceedee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Brandin Cooks are a formidable trio who have given opposing defenses fits all season. Remember, this is also an offense that scores 30 points easily.
Greenlaw isn’t the only defender on the 49ers who is in the top-10 in EPA per target. I think it’s important to highlight this stat as “expected points added” gauges big plays. What’s the easiest way to score? By allowing explosive plays. Sustaining drives in this day and age is near impossible.
Well, Warner, Mooney Ward, and Deommodore Lenoir are all in the top 15. Mooney ranks 12th, with Warner ninth and Lenoir eighth. The 49ers have four of their primary coverage players ranked inside of the top 12, and that showed in Week 5.
In the video below, I highlight everything from Warner being spectacular to Greenlaw being the tone-setter to Mike McCarthy’s ineptitude. Sunday night was the 49ers most dominant defensive performance of the year, and should give them plenty of confidence moving forward.