John Lynch

49ers Defense: Brick wall or Swiss cheese?

Last year the 49ers’ defense was almost nonexistent under new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. They were ranked 25th in both points and yards allowed. But due to better play and longer drives on offense when Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the quarterback, things improved but it was far from perfect.

As the new season approaches, the final cuts have been made. Will the defense improve in year two under Saleh’s leadership? Will his “All Gas no breaks” defense finally put the fear into opposing offenses? Is the defense going to build a brick wall, stand tall and stand strong? Or will it be the same swiss cheese, filled with holes all over the field, as it has been in the past?

Defensive Line

Last year the 49ers were 27th in sacks. To say they didn’t have a pass rush is like saying ice melts on a warm summer’s day. Now with the season here, the 49ers still appear to be without a defensive end that can be disruptive to the opposing side. Sure they have Solomon Thomas but he severely underperformed last season. Arik Armstead will be playing defensive end on the other side, but he hasn’t played a full season in the past two years and is currently dealing with a hamstring injury. Can this line bring pressure to the quarterback? They looked good against the Colts, but their offensive line is terrible. We’re not sure if the line is improved or if it was just because of the Colt’s line is just that bad. Can Thomas and Armstrong create enough of a pass rush to leave DeForest Buckner in one and one situations?

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Reuben Foster is suspended for the first two games of the season due to his off the field issues this past offseason. The starting Linebackers for Week 1 against the Vikings will be rookie linebacker Fred Warner, Brock Coyle, and Mark Nzeocha. After missing all of last season, we were looking forward to getting Malcolm Smith back in the lineup but he listed as doubtful. Can the linebacker corps stop the run, will they be able to take away the middle of the field? When Foster returns, will he be able to stay on the field and stop visiting the medical tent?

Defensive Backs

Richard Sherman? One of the biggest questions on the defensive side of the ball is how will Richard Sherman look. Has he lost a step, will he be able to keep up with opposing wide receivers? Is it enough just to have Sherman out on the field to give quarterbacks doubt as to throwing his way? He was after all only targeted once in the preseason game against the Colts.

Everyone likes to talk about the buddy relationship between Joe Staley and rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey, but there was another buddy relationship formed this offseason. Sherman and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. We may not know if Sherman will physically be able to compete, but he still has his mind and Witherspoon has been picking his mind all offseason.

Remember Super Bowl 50, Broncos vs Panthers? Peyton Manning was a shell of his former self that season, but he still had his mind, and he was still dangerous because of it. Sherman is smart, he has a very high football IQ and the knowledge that he is passing off to the young secondary can be just as valuable as his presence on the field. Was Witherspoon a good student and took it all in, will he rise to the occasion?

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I’ve said I believe the defense is underrated. I think the defensive line can be disruptive. I believe the linebackers may end up being some of the hardest hitting players this year. I believe in Richard Sherman, he’s betting on himself and quite frankly that’s enough for me. The defense did show signs of improvement towards the end of the season last year, now it’s time to show the world what they’re capable of and it starts with the Vikings.

If it ain’t football news, is it worth reading?

Matt Woolsey

Matt Woolsey

Writer San Francisco 49ers Desk at Sports Talk Line
I was a December baby born in 1980. Married to my beautiful bride Jen for the past 15 years, and father of 3. Been a 49ers fan since the days of Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice. I've been playing fantasy football for almost 20 years, been playing dynasty for the past 5 years. All I can say is I love the game.
Matt Woolsey

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