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The top 5 defenses the 49ers will face this season

There’s a lot of NFC East on this list

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The 49ers enter the 2023 regular season with the best offense to date under Kyle Shanahan. We’re unsure who starts at quarterback in Week 1, but they’ll have the advantage against just about any defense with the weapons and Kyle Shanahan calling plays.

That doesn’t mean the offense will click on all cylinders in every game. Today, we’ll look at the top five defenses the 49ers will face this season. They will not be listed in order.

Washington Commanders

Washington gave the 49ers all they could handle last year, despite what the final score of 37-20 says. The Niners scored one touchdown in the first half, and that was thanks to a Ray-Ray McCloud 71-yard run. Short fields provided by defensive turnovers helped San Francisco pile up points in the fourth quarter.

Washington’s general manager, Martin Mayhew, comes from San Francisco’s front office, so it’s no surprise he built the defense through the trenches. The Commanders added help in the secondary through the draft, which should make them even more of a formidable opponent.

From Week 9 on, the Commanders were ranked third in defensive EPA per play and first in defensive success rate.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati also got stronger as the year went along. After Week 9, they finished sixth in EPA per play defensively and fourth in dropback success rate.

We know the offense must keep pace with the high-flying Bengals offense, but Cincy is the type of team that doesn’t give up anything easy. They’re speedy in the secondary and sound upfront. That’s an easy way to be successful.

Plus, they added a first round pick at edge rusher to pair with Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson. Week 8 will pose as one of the more difficult games on the schedule for the Niners.

Dallas Cowboys

Kyle Shanahan has Dallas’s defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s number, but it’s impossible to ignore the success the Cowboys had last season. Micah Parsons was the Defensive Player of the Year up to the final month of the season. The Cowboys added help along the defensive line in the first round, and traded for Stephon Gilmore, which gives them a lockdown cornerback.

Only three teams had a lower EPA per play defensively from Week 9 on last year than the Cowboys. Dallas also finished ninth in success rate and was excellent against the run.

Despite not having the interception numbers he did the year prior, Trevon Diggs became a much better cornerback. So, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, two rock solid corners and DeMarcus Lawrence will give most offenses problems.

Baltimore Ravens

This primetime matchup is the one game out of the division I’m excited to watch the most. The Ravens turned into a different team once they traded for linebacker Roquan Smith. He’s a star.

You’ll notice each defensive unit listed had a big, strong defensive line capable of overwhelming, and Baltimore is no different. The Ravens have a couple of young edge rushers who figure to come into their own this season.

This may be the best safety duo the Niners run into outside of the Seahawks this year. To me, that means nothing will come easy. That’s what it was like for years with Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt. No big plays, and you have to work for every first down.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles look smarter than most due to executing a plan and not straying too far outside of the box. Philadelphia lost the Javon Hargrave, one of the top pass rushing defensive tackles in the league, and replaced him with one of the most dominant college football players from the previous two seasons in Jordan Davis.

Their rookies from a season ago, Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean, figure to play a prominent role this year, too. Add in four quality cornerbacks, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Josh Sweat, and it’s easy to see why the Eagles are the offseason darling.

The Eagles are asking a lot out of their young cast of defenders, though. Why their defense finished ninth in EPA per play allowed after Week 9, they were average in success rate and at stopping the run. They left a lot to be desired and were fortunate to play a middling schedule.