Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

49ers shine on defense despite being without seven starters

Oct 25, 2020 at 8:13 PM--

Among the most impressive facets of the back-to-back wins the 49ers have posted against the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots over the past two weeks has been the play of their defense, which has been able to shine even without seven projected starters due to injury.

The 49ers have been banged up on the defensive line for most of the season, with Nick Bosa (torn ACL), Solomon Thomas (torn ACL), and Dee Ford (back) among those who have been on the sidelines. They've also been without cornerback Richard Sherman, who has been out since mid-September due to a calf injury. More recently, the defense has lost linebacker Kwon Alexander (ankle), safety Jimmie Ward (quad), and safety Jaquiski Tartt (groin).

And yet, the 49ers have been able to persevere due to the depth they have on the roster while also bringing in veterans such as cornerback Jamar Taylor, who was with the team in training camp. Taylor stepped up in Sunday's 33-6 win over the New England Patriots, as did safeties Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris.

"Extremely impressed," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the win in New England. "For both those safeties to come in and have the game that they did, Jamar Taylor who wasn't here a few weeks ago... for him to have two picks today I thought it was huge."

49ers linebacker Fred Warner says there's plenty of credit to go around, starting with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

"I think obviously it starts with Saleh, the way he playcalls and gets us ready throughout the week, all the coaches, and you've got to give credit to all these guys who are stepping up," Warner said. "You have T-Moore and Marcell Harris coming in at safety this week on short notice and they come in and play big roles for us and ball out. Our guys who are still in the lineup, we take great pride in being out there and try to keep the defense steady. I can't say enough good things about how our front is playing, even with guys down. Guys in the back end are playing solid coverage. We've just got to get back to work and keep it going."

The performance of the defense as of late may come as a surprise to some, given the injury issues as well as the struggles it had in a 43-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 5. But it hasn't been surprising to the 49ers, who see what they are capable of on a daily basis.

"The way our defense goes at it every single day in practice, the way our coaches prepare them and the extra work they put in, I expect that no matter who's out there," tight end George Kittle said. "That's just our defense. That's just their mindset. We have a lot of guys out there that make a lot of plays.

"What I love about our defense is you say we have seven opening day guys who aren't starting, but all that is, it's an opportunity for these young guys to come in or other players to come in and make big plays. That's all we've been doing is making plays and playing good football and playing team football."

The challenges will get tougher for the defense in the weeks ahead, starting with a road matchup against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks next Sunday, followed by a home game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers the following week. Chances are the defense will continue to have its doubters given the nature of those matchups, but it'll be happy to do what it can to keep proving people wrong.

"I feel like all that noise outside the building is irrelevant in our building, especially to our group," Warner said. "We know exactly what we're capable of and we're just going to continue to work every single day to get better."

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