Defense Key to San Francisco 49ers Success

| by Alex Groberman

The San Francisco 49ers have been doing a whole lot of winning in this young 2011 season, and they’ve been doing with a certain type of aggressiveness that they hadn’t shown in years prior. Behind a solid effort from the defense, the 49ers have slowly but surely established themselves as one of the tougher teams on the block.

Yes, tougher.

Boasting one of the top rush defenses in the NFL, San Francisco has not allowed a single rushing touchdown this season. In fact, the only running back to even find the end zone against 49ers this year has been Philadelphia Eagles speedster LaSean McCoy, who snuck in with a five-yard reception for a score. A receiving touchdown, not a rushing touchdown.

Aside from that, though, it’s been a brilliant effort by the unit any way you want to cut it, and it's been going on for a long time. There hasn’t been a single running back in the last 28 outings to break the 100-yard plateau against San Francisco. On top of that, currently, the team is giving up just under 75 rushing yards per game – good for second best in the NFL.

But it’s not just the rush defense that’s been superb. Behind the underrated strategizing of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the 49ers have established themselves as a squad that can both pressure the opposing team’s passer and at the same time pass protect against the top opposing wide receivers.

Heading into Week 7, the 49ers are holding opponents to fewer points than any other squad in the NFC and lead the league with 14 forced turnovers.

Even though it’s largely been a team effort, there have been a few notable individual figures in San Francisco’s defensive resurgence this year. Defensive end, Justin Smith, has been huge all season and made the defensive play of the year when he stripped Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin of the ball to clinch that game for his squad. Rookie, Aldon Smith has also been great, as his 5.5 sacks this year put him on pace to finish the season with 14.5 total sacks. If he achieves the feat, he would tie the rookie record set by Jevon Kearse back in 1999.

San Francisco looks a lot different in 2011 than they have in years past. There’s a certain confidence and swagger emanating from the club that had otherwise been missing before. Sure, maybe it’s all because of head coach Jim Harbaugh who does sort of promote both of those qualities – but maybe it’s something else.

Maybe finally having a legitimate, recognizably great defense has taken a lot of pressure off of the other units and, simultaneously, made opposing squads realize that their offense won’t just score at will against these guys.

Keep an eye on the 49ers defense for the rest of the year because, how well that unit plays, will be a likely barometer for how much success the whole team will have this season.