There is a cloud hanging over the San Francisco 49ers right now, and it has formed as a result of multiple factors.
Another big issue is the team’s offensive struggles.
It ranks towards the bottom of the NFL in several key offensive categories.
With Mitchell and Tyrion Davis-Price out, the 49ers have very little to speak of in terms of a running game (they collected just 88 rushing yards in Week 3).
Plus, their passing game has been anemic whether Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo has been under center.
But one thing has actually been going very well for San Francisco so far this season: its defense.
The team’s defense has been pretty elite, and it could very well be the one thing that keeps it in one piece while it weathers the storm of injuries it is in the midst of right now.
The 49ers Are Very Hard To Score On
In recent years, whether Kyle Shanahan or Jim Harbaugh has been their head coach, the 49ers have won with defense.
So far this season, they rank near the top of the league in several categories on that side of the football.
They’re fourth in rushing yards allowed, third in points allowed, second in total yards allowed, and first in passing yards and touchdowns allowed.
The 49ers defense has given up just 681 yards on 173 plays through three games. Only the Bills have given up fewer (642) but that’s on 158 plays.
Niners lead the NFL in yards allowed per play at 3.9.
— Al Sacco (@AlSacco49) September 27, 2022
San Francisco hasn’t allowed an opponent to reach 20 points yet.
In today’s NFL, when you hold a team under 20 points, you’re usually going to win.
On Sunday against the Denver Broncos, the Niners held Russell Wilson to 184 passing yards on 20-of-33 passing and zero touchdowns while also allowing him to run for just 17 yards on six attempts.
Shanahan and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans have done quite a job getting them to lock teams down.
The motto for the 49ers defense is SWARM (Special Work ethic & Relentless Mindset)
I can’t think of a better way to show that relentless mindset than the way that all of the linebackers rallied to the football to make this tackle
Look at how much ground Azeez Al-Shaair covered pic.twitter.com/TxZdK5Owxv
— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) September 22, 2022
Defense is the key to winning championships, and when a team is that great defensively, it will often have a chance at winning.
That is true even when its offense is struggling as much as the Niners’ offense has.
Two Men, In Particular, Have Stepped Up
Needing to bolster its secondary, San Francisco acquired Charvarius Ward, an up-and-coming cornerback who spent his first four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.
In three games this year, he has 18 tackles (8 solo), 1 interception, and 3 passes defended.
He is allowing a completion percentage of just 47.1 percent when his man has been targeted.
An incredible pass breakup by Charvarius Ward!
— Coach Yac 🗣 (@Coach_Yac) September 26, 2022
Lowest passer rating allowed this season…
Jamel Dean – 12.9
DJ Reed – 19.5
Darius Slay – 24.1
Matt Milano – 24.6
Charvarius Ward – 28.2
Antoine Winfield – 28.7
Minkah Fitzpatrick – 35.0
Jaquan Brisker – 39.6
Adoree’ Jackson – 43.7
Jaylen Watson – 44.1
(min. 10+ targets)
— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) September 23, 2022
Meanwhile, second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga may be emerging as a star.
He is leading the team in solo tackles while also posting one interception, three passes defended, and four tackles for loss.
Ryan sends Talanoa Hufanga on a blitz and he completely wrecks the Broncos play pic.twitter.com/WAsT60PXAF
— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2022
In fact, NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth compared Hufanga to a Hall of Fame safety who has two Super Bowl rings.
“He [Hufanga] really times it out and it does remind you of Troy Polamalu…”
— Chris Collinsworth pic.twitter.com/uQZhdRipU7
— Coach Yac 🗣 (@Coach_Yac) September 27, 2022
The 49ers’ defense could turn out to be the one strong thread that keeps it all together until they achieve full health or close to it again.