The focus remains on the defensive front in part two of my series on the best of the best from the 49ers’ 2022 season. However, this time I will highlight one of the most underrated aspects of a very successful season for this football team.
The run defense contributions from the big bodies on the interior of the 49ers’ defensive line. This high-octane front is often recognized for its ability to get after the passer, but as the adage goes, that’s a privilege you earn by shutting down the run. This would be impossible without the unsung heroes doing the dirty work in the trenches.
The 49ers ranked second in the NFL in yards per carry and total rushing yards allowed. They presented a formidable front that made opponents hesitant to run the football, as nobody in the league had fewer rushing attempts against them than the 49ers did.
It’s an astounding statistic because the alternative of trying to throw the ball against their vaunted pass rush is far from an ideal pivot. Even with the game flow often dictating opponents lean on a pass-heavy attack, most of the attempts to balance that out with a commitment to running the football were met with resistance by this stout 49ers defensive front.
The most impressive thing about how successful this unit was against the run was how many different contributors there were at the defensive tackle position. After being devastated by injuries throughout the season, the 49ers had reached a point where the top four defensive tackles on their depth chart had all missed time.
In their absence, those who filled in did so admirably. The team never really missed a beat despite their depleted depth, largely due to the performance of a handful of overlooked veterans like Akeem Spence, T.Y. McGill, and Michael Dwumfour.
Kevin Givens continued his run of being one of the most underrated 49ers players on the entire roster. Hassan Ridgeway turned out to be one of the most valuable signings of the 2022 offseason. In his second stint with the 49ers, Kerry Hyder Jr.’s versatility to play on the interior proved invaluable to a front in desperate need of capable bodies.
There were so many plays to choose from, but to keep things condensed, I picked five that stood out to me. I will start with a couple from Givens, who has proven to be a textbook example of how a good organization identifies and develops talent behind the scenes.
In the 49ers’ Week 11 win over the Arizona Cardinals, they held their division rival to just 67 yards on 22 carries. Givens was exceptional in this game, recording multiple STOPS and a sack.
On this play, he is able to land a strike similar to a club move a pass rusher would use, landing his hand on the outside shoulder of the center before clearing him with a swim move. He quickly gets in the backfield to slam Cardinals running back James Conner into the turf:
Kevin Givens lands a strike on the left shoulder of the center with a club before clearing with a swim move to register this tackle for loss pic.twitter.com/MkyLU1byN4— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) July 17, 2023
In the 49ers’ week four win over the Rams, Givens recorded multiple pressures and an extremely impressive run stop rep, resulting in a tackle for loss. He uses a swim move to clear the center before exploding behind the line of scrimmage to take down Rams running back Cam Akers for a loss:
Kevin Givens using a swim move to clear the center and register this TFL pic.twitter.com/pvHSL320EM— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) July 17, 2023
Hyder Jr. recorded three tackles in the 49ers’ week ten win over the Los Angeles Chargers. That included this tackle for loss, where he showed a tremendous combination of burst and power.
The Chargers dial up an inside zone call that has the right guard and right tackle double Hyder Jr. before the right tackle peels off to take on a second-level defender.
Lined up as a three-technique, Hyder Jr. takes advantage of the opening provided when the tackle peels off the double team, tossing aside the guard before firing into the vacant space to bring down Chargers running back Isaiah Spiller near the line of scrimmage:
Incredible power on display by Kerry Hyder Jr. on this run stop— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) July 15, 2023
Moves the RG and fires into the space created by the RT peeling off the double team on this inside zone attempt pic.twitter.com/h4MjHmfTiH
One of the season’s most anticipated matchups came in Week 13 when the Miami Dolphins came to town. There were plenty of juicy storylines to choose from leading up to this game, namely former 49ers players and coaches making their return to Levi’s Stadium.
That included running back Raheem Mostert, who will forever live in 49ers postseason lore following his historic performance in the 2019 NFC Championship Game. While Mostert received a warm reception from fans, his greeting from Ridgeway wasn’t as welcoming.
Lined up in a 2i shade, Ridgeway tosses aside the left guard before bringing down Mostert near the line of scrimmage:
Hassan Ridgeway was an incredible signing for the 49ers last season— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) July 15, 2023
Provided invaluable depth while the 49ers interior defensive line was depleted with injuries
2i shade here, tossed aside the LG and brought down former 49ers RB Raheem Mostert near the line of scrimmage pic.twitter.com/ICeN4lC5fN
At this point, I think it’s a consensus that Brock Purdy’s success was the season’s biggest surprise for the 49ers. But if we exclude the quarterback position, I would argue that it was McGill thriving after being thrust into a prominent role due to how depleted the 49ers’ defensive interior was.
McGill is a 30-year-old veteran who has spent time with seven different teams in the NFL. He has stuck around this long for a reason, and he flashed that repeatedly during his time with the 49ers. After his week ten appearance against the Chargers, he recorded at least a pressure or a run stop in every regular season game he appeared in for the remainder of the season.
That included an awe-inspiring performance in a hard-fought game against the New Orleans Saints in week twelve. Lined up as a three-technique, McGill clears the left guard with a swim move before bringing down Saints running back Alvin Kamara for a loss: