Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to give 49ers defense the respect it deserves

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jan 3, 2022 at 3:00 PM--

The 49ers defense was nothing short of phenomenal Sunday, holding the Houston Texans, who put up 41 points on the Chargers last week, to seven points and 222 total offensive yards Sunday.

They continued a trend of impressive performances that has been surprisingly common all season.

The most tantalizing factor? The 49ers defense held the Texans offense to 3.6 yards per play, which was the fourth-best rank of the Shanahan era, and there have been some damn good defenses during his tenure.

Davis Mills—who diced-up the Chargers with an efficient 21/27, 254-yard, and two touchdown performance—was limited by the 49ers pass rush, throwing for just 163 yards with a touchdown, an interception, and just 5.1 yards per play.

In addition, Rex Burkhead, who surprisingly rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns on 6.8 yards per carry last weekend, was limited to just 2.9 yards per carry against a 49ers run defense that has absolutely changed their narrative over the second half of the season.

Over the first half of the season, San Francisco allowed 100+ yards rushing in seven of their eight games, but over the second half, that same feat has occurred just once against this improving defense, and even that came with a caveat.

After the 49ers early-season slump, the defense was the first group to be blamed—because of the below-average play at cornerback—but in reality, they've been dominant all season, courtesy of defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

Almost every position group has elevated their play as the season has prolonged. The pass rush has become more dominant, the linebackers have tackled well, and the secondary has improved, especially with the emergence of Ambry Thomas and the underrated season put together by Emmanuel Moseley before his injury.

In fact, the defense has been the primary reason that the 49ers have been competitive on multiple occasions, such as San Francisco's 17-11 win against the Eagles in Week 2, 17-10 loss to Arizona in Week 5, 31-10 win against the Rams in Week 10, as well as wins against Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Houston yesterday.

There's been just one game this season where the 49ers defense could be considered the prime reason for a loss—the second matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. During the Colt McCoy-led Arizona win, the 49ers failed to tackle on defense, leading to many James Conner highlight plays en route to a 31-17 Cardinal win.

However, even with that game mixed in, the San Francisco defense has managed to improve. Just look at the second Seattle game. The 49ers, whose pass rush has propelled the defense, scared Seattle so much that they put together a passing gameplan of screens and short plays to force the 49ers to tackle in space. And they did so extremely efficiently, with the star safety tandem of Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt leading the way.

The San Francisco defense ranks seventh in the NFL in sacks per game, fifth in passing yards allowed per game, tenth in rushing yards allowed per game, seventh in yards per play, and seventh in yards per rush allowed. And, while the sacks per game number may seem to be great, but not elite, the 49ers actually rank third in sack %, which is incredible given their relatively slow start to the year.

Overall, those are some pretty good numbers for a defense that has been inaccurately blamed for being a detriment to this team.

Looking specifically at Sunday's game, DeMeco Ryans' crew was just suffocating, and the number one reason that San Francisco pulled out this win. Despite a shaky performance by the offense to start, the defense held through in the first half, limiting Davis Mills and Co. to just seven points and forcing punts on five of the six Texans first-half possessions.

The relatively close game allowed San Francisco's offense to stay within its gameplan, as they established an offensive identity through a variety of passes and runs in the 2nd half en-route to 20 points and a comfortable lead.

The 49ers defense has a tough challenge next week, as they face a dominant Rams offense that just defeated a Baltimore team on the road and are fighting for the division title. However, they've seen this team before, and overwhelmed them in Week 10, which was one of the sparks for this second-half run that San Francisco has gone on.

It's been beyond time to put respect on this defense's name after the great performances they have consistently put up to keep San Francisco competitive throughout games.

Moral of the story: don't sleep on this 49ers defense.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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