It is said that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. That is a statement that the San Francisco 49ers live by. With the top rated defense in the NFL, overall and in most individual categories as well, the Niners have crushed some of the best offenses in the league.
Justin Smith plays every down like its fourth down on the goal line, with only seconds left. In other words, he goes all out on every play.
Isaac Sopoaga, the nose guard, does an exceptional job at stopping the run dead, and occupying blockers. Ray McDonald had a pretty good game against Arizona, but the 49ers would like to see him increase his production overall. The Niners defensive line is a big, mean run-stopping machine, but their pass rush has left a lot to be desired through the first 8 games this season.
The entire defensive line only has ½ a sack; Ray McDonald split one with Ahmad Brooks. That kind of production is simply not what the 49ers had hoped for out of a massive defensive line.
Defensive Line Grade: B
With the exception of possibly Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis may be the most imposing, hardest hitting, ball hawking middle/inside linebacker on the field at any given time.
That is, if his protégé NaVorro Bowman happens to be standing on the sidelines. The inside linebacker team of Willis/Bowman has become one of the most respected and feared teams in the league. They pass rush, stuff the run, drop into coverage, and blow up the pocket with cold precision and cruel efficiency.
Paired with outside linebackers Aldon Smith, and Ahmad Brooks, who are quite simply sack producing, pass rushing machines, the Niners linebacker corps is the best of the best. The only criticism that may be valid is that Aldon Smith looks a little uncomfortable when dropping into coverage, and is still getting used to playing every down.
Linebacker Grade: A
If you watched the Niners-Saints playoff game last year and the Niners-Cardinals game Monday night, then you know the kind of devastatingly hard hitting safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson are.
In addition to punishing receivers for even the slightest mistake, these two destroyers break up passes like corners, and stuff the run like linebackers. However, both of these hard-hitting safeties wear their emotions on their sleeves and rack up far too many personal foul penalties. Both of them need to reign in their emotions and play hard and clean.
Carlos Rogers and Terrell Brown are playing good if not great football on the corners, but have been beaten in key situations this season. The broken up passes and good open field tackles have definitely been an improvement this season, but for a secondary that was second to none in causing turn-overs last year, they have been strangely quiet on that front.
In fact nickel back Chris Culliver is tied for most interceptions with two. One major improvement over last year however is dime back Perrish Cox, who is much better defensively than Tremaine Brock, who filled the role last season.
Secondary Grade: A
There is no doubt that the Niners have the best defense in a league full of good defenses, and their training camp is like Miramar for linebackers, but as with their offense, consistency is the key. The defense must improve their ability to defend against the pass, generate more turnovers, and most of all stop getting stupid penalties.
Defense Grade: A-