Breathe in……..breathe out. Deep breaths now. In……….out.
That peaceful, calming serenity is the San Francisco 49ers defense. You know, the side of the ball that isn’t dissected over and over again. The side that’s been rock solid almost the entire 2013 season. The 49ers defense mastered an attack against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football that put the rest of the League on notice.
They will cover sideline to sideline. They will hit you, inflict pain, and come back for more. They’ll smother wide receivers, flank tight ends, and mirror running backs in coverage. Stunts, rips, shifts, and blitzes will factor over and over again to reach the quarterback. The balance that the Niners offense tries to find each week is located within the team’s defense.
In the world of the 2013 season for the San Francisco 49ers, it’s been about the offense and their struggles. Every 49ers fan sits on the edge of their seats waiting to analyze every play Colin Kaepernick takes under center. If the central focus resides on the offense, we’re going to miss the focal point for this team. In Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins, the 49ers played without starters Ray McDonald and Tarrell Brown. Did anybody notice? Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not discrediting either of those two players, because they are both very fine football players. But, the depth and overall talent defensively is astounding. Add that to the fact that Aldon Smith seemed to announce to the world that he’s back, and this is a frightening defensive unit.
I’d like to single out a few individual performaces from the 27-6 domination of the Redskins, but I’d feel that would be a disservice to the entire unit as a whole. So let’s highlight the men that contributed the most to the stellar performance on the big stage known as Monday Night Football.
For me, it begins and ends with “The Cowboy.” Based on the outcome of each play, I can almost predict if Justin Smith is on the field. He’s the most irreplaceable member of the 49ers defense. Every snap he takes is taken with the same high intensity and devotion to dominance. That was all on display against the Washington Redskins. He ate up blockers to free up linebackers and fellow lineman as effectively as he rushed the quarterback himself. His 7 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 total quarterback hits were a microcosm of Smith’s overall performance.
This was Monday’s nights most impressive performance. He filled in for the injured Ray McDonald (who’s underrated in his own right) and then some. Jerrod-Eddie played and protected his gap responsibilities almost perfectly. For an undrafted player that’s always on the cusp of the roster, totaling 5 tackles (3 solo) on the Monday Night Football stage was impressive
I like to call Dorsey “The Boulder.” Glenn Dorsey is not going to be moved without the help of multiple men. On Monday, Dorsey consistently swallowed multiple lineman allowing his linebackers freedom in their movements and responsibilities. He can never be faulted for doing what he’s asked to do within the 49ers system. He also accumulated 4 tackles (2 solo) from his NT/DT positions.
I found myself singing the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter (look it up, it’s catchy) in honor of Aldon Smith’s performance against the Redskins. After battling some legal troubles, trying to get himself right, and an illness, Smith’s total package of speed, power, and elusiveness came to the forefront once again. It sure was a thing to watch! I have a feeling Trent Williams wouldn’t mind going the rest of his career without seeing Aldon Smith line up across him again. A couple quarterback sacks added with a couple more qb hits were a nice welcome back, Aldon Smith.
It truly is a shame that it took Ahmad Brook’s faux penalty on Drew Brees to get some major recognition. That mammoth, rock solid man plays the game with a fierce passion. There’s a reason he signed a six year contract last year, and it was evident again against Washington. Brooks totaled 7 tackles, 2 sacks, and his customary one pass defended per game. He once again showed his great all around athleticism.
There are many that anoint Bowman with the crown as the best middle linebacker in the National Football League. I’m going to steer clear of that argument, but NaVarro Bowman deserves to be mentioned separate from his middle linebacker counterpart. Against the Redskins, Bowman defended the run and the pass equally effective. He covered sideline to sideline as always and garnered 9 total tackles.
Who exactly is the “other guy” of San Francisco’s middle linebackers? Yeah, I don’t know either. In totaling 11 tackles, Patrick Willis had his highest tackle total game of the season. It was his most complete performance of the year as well. Willis played the game of “anything you can do, I can do better” with NaVarro Bowman all night long, and on this night he won. He excelled in coverage and his reads on running plays were just a tad bit better than Bowman’s against the Redskins.
His first game into a brand new contract and Tramaine Brock showed that he’s going to be worth that money. Then again, he’s shown that all year long. But, this game was Brock’s first start of the season replacing Tarrell Brown. He allowed a couple receptions, one of those on a slip, but he never gave up the big play and he was in position to make a play in coverage. He’s the present and a future piece of the 49ers secondary.
Ah yes, the old man of the 49ers secondary…..just don’t tell him that. He refused to take a pay cut from the 49ers front office at the beginning of the year, and it’s become apparent that he shouldn’t have either. He’s earned his money this year. On Monday night, Rogers flashed some of that 4.44 second 40 yard dash time in coverage. His pass defense against Aldrick Robinson was a sight to see for a 32 year old cornerback still covering speedsters. He also showed he’s not afraid to hit in adding 4 tackles.
Whitner has pulled a turn of 180 degrees from a year ago. I realize it’s a contract year for Whitner, but his coverage skills have been outstanding this year. He was targeted five times by Robert Griffin III and there were no completions. And in customary “Hitner” form, Donte added 5 tone setting tackles. He also added the only interception of the game.
I’ve been wracking my brain here trying to find that so-called, blatant rookie moment from Eric Reid this season. I can’t recall it, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Needless to say, Reid has had a masterful first season. Just like his 10 main defensive teammates on this night, Eric Reid played extremely well. His presence in the passing game is well beyond his years. Even more impressive has been ability to adapt in the tackling game in hopes of preventing another concussion. Reid tallied 5 tackles and a pass defended too.
The San Francisco 49ers throttling of the Washington Redskins displayed a defense that is going to lead this team where it’s hoping to go. It forced Robert Griffin III further into the media spotlight garnering Colin Kaepernickesque type criticism. And most importantly, the 49ers defense has re energized the San Francisco 49ers fan base as it heads into the stretch run of the NFL season.