The San Francisco 49ers have major concerns. Like the United States, if the team didn’t invest so much in defense, the situation could be considerably worse.
The 49ers’ disappointing 6-4 regular season start is more an indicator of the team’s stale offense than its staunch back-11. While not as dominant as the 2011 unit that was first in the NFL in takeaways and rush yards allowed and second in points and first downs allowed, San Francisco has been more reliant on its defense in 2013 to win games. Through Week 11, the 49ers are seventh in the league in total yards surrendered (323.8), fourth in points conceded per game (17.8) and fifth in passing scores allowed.
Standout performers on the defense this season include All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman (91 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles), nickel cornerback Tramaine Brock (nine pass deflections, four interceptions, one touchdown), rookie safety Eric Reid (46 tackles, seven deflections, three interceptions), and outside backer Ahmad Brooks (42 tackles, 6.5 sacks). Talented veterans like Patrick Willis, Terrell Brown, Justin Smith and Donte Whitner have done their part to stump rival offenses.
What’s encouraging is the group’s potential ceiling. Superstar Aldon Smith recently returned from his five-week suspension, and he will draw focus from Brooks. Starting nose tackle Ian Williams broke his left ankle in Week 2, but fill-in and former end Glenn Dorsey is shaping into the role. Meanwhile the 49ers are still receiving scant production from early 2013 draft picks Cornellius “Tank” Carradine and Corey Lemonier. When San Francisco stocks a full arsenal, coordinator Vic Fangio can finally expand his play calls.
At their best, the 49ers defense crashes gaps like a hammer and swarms the ball like gnats. But it will only be for show if the team can’t break out of its funk on offense (which is 29th in total yards). It is possible to be successful with an unbalanced attack (see: 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers) but with competition so stiff in a cutthroat NFC West, the defense’s burden looks heavy.