49ers First Half Grades: Defense

Rohan Chakravarthi
Nov 8, 2022 at 2:15 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers are set to return from their bye week to face the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi's Stadium in Week 10, sparking the beginning of a favorable second-half travel schedule as they have four home games in five weeks.

Standing at 4-4 at the bye week, the 49ers have certainly gone through their ups and downs this season, so let's evaluate the first half in the form I know best: grades.

Here are the first-half grades for the 49ers on defense.

Defensive Line: A

Nick Bosa has been playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level, recording 8.5 sacks thus far, which ranks second in the NFL through 9 weeks.

Not only has Bosa been amongst the top of the NFL in pressure rate and pass-rush win rate, but he has continued his stellar play as a run defender.

When he has played, Arik Armstead has been a difference maker and a huge reason why the 49ers were the best defense in the NFL early on, with good numbers against the run.

Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu have enjoyed quietly impactful seasons, recording 3.5 and 3 sacks respectively, with the former continuing his good play against the run, while the latter has posted a high pressure rate to complement Nick Bosa as a pass-rusher.

However, in the past few weeks, without Armstead, and Bosa at times, the 49ers' defense has slipped, becoming less efficient against the run.

But, the overall impact in the passing game cannot be understated with the sheer number of contributors that have generated pressure this season, hence the A grade.

Linebackers: A-

When healthy, the one-two punch of Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw has been one of the best at the linebacker position this season. The former has continued to be the NFL's best coverage linebacker, while the latter has been aggressive and strong in his tackling at the line of scrimmage.

Azeez Al-Shaair was a contributor early on, but suffered an MCL sprain in Week 3 against the Denver Broncos, leading to increased snaps for backups Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles in the following weeks.

Burks has been an important special-teams player thus far, which is why the 49ers pursued and signed him in free agency this past offseason.

However, the linebackers did struggle for portions of the Falcons and Chiefs games, missing tackles at times and taking poor angles to players in space.

Those struggles bring down the grade a little, moving the position group to an A- for the first half.

Secondary: A-

Charvarius Ward has been everything the 49ers have desired at the cornerback position, locking down one-half of the field as San Francisco's top cornerback for the majority of the season.

Additionally, when he was playing, Emmanuel Moseley formed a strong one-two punch with Ward, which resulted in San Franciso possessing the league's best defense for the first few weeks of the year.

However, following Moseley's season-ending ACL injury, nickel cornerback Deommodore Lenoir has moved to the outside and safety Jimmie Ward has played in the slot, producing mixed results, as the Falcons and Chiefs took advantage of the change.

Talanoa Hufanga has emerged as a star at safety, lessening the impact of losing Jimmie Ward early. Hufanga plays with a quick burst to the ball, an ability to shoot gaps, and just overall aggressiveness.

While Hufanga has cooled off after a blazing hot start to the season, he's been a major factor to the 49ers' Top 10 ranked defense thus far.

Veteran safety Tashauan Gipson has also been a pleasant surprise, serving as a complement to Hufanga, while seeing action in the big nickel as well.

The small inconsistencies of the group drop the grade to A-, which they'll look to maintain as the 49ers attempt a playoff push.
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