San Francisco 49ers 12-4
Last Season’s Rankings: #5 Overall Defense (316.9 total yards per game allowed) #7 Passing Defense (221 passing yards per game allowed) #4 Rushing Defense (95.9 rushing yards per game allowed)
Last January the 49ers lost their bid to go to another Super Bowl, 23-17 to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. Unlike most losses a team endures, the NFC Championship loss to the Seahawks was a small victory for the San Francisco 49ers in that not only were they able to hold the Seahawks to 23 points, but also because they were almost able to win it on a last second throw. En route to another NFC Championship appearance, the 49ers ranked fifth last season with one of the most experienced defenses in the league. Most of their strength came from their experienced line backing corps and their strong corners. Although they did lose both of their good corners (Carlos Rogers and Terell Brown) and their Strong Safety Donte Whitner, they were still able to add some great talent during the off-season to replace those skilled players. The perfect balance of youth and experience, a recipe for success if you ask me.
Ranking fourth in rushing defense in 2013 (95.9 rushing yards allowed), the 49ers’ front seven is one of the best in the NFL. Even with Aldon Smith’s off-the-field issues, one cannot deny his on-the-field abilities. The 49ers’ front seven consists of DE Ray McDonald (37 total tackles, 3.5 sacks and three tackles for loss), DT Glen Dorsey (41 tackles and two sacks), DE Justin Smith (49 tackles, 6.5 sacks and three tackles for loss), OLB Ahmad Brooks (60 tackles, 8.5 sacks, six tackles for loss and seven passes defended), ILB NaVorro Bowman (145 tackles, five sacks, six tackles for loss, eight passes defended, and four fumbles forced), ILB Patrick Willis (104 tackles, three sacks and seven tackles for loss), and OLB Aldon Smith (34 tackles, 8.5 sacks and four tackles for loss). For years Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman have acted as the 49ers wrecking crew, demolishing opposing offenses. This next season I don’t expect anything different. The only questionable part of this defense would have to be Bowman because of his broken leg sustained during the playoffs last season in the divisional round against the Panthers. While Bowman did have an outstanding 145 tackles last season for the 49ers, there is no guarantee that he will come back and play 100%. But no fear San Francisco fans, OLB Aldon Smith and DE Justin Smith will be joining rookies such as Boston College DT Kaleb Ramsey, Wisconsin ILB Chris Borland, USF DE Aaron Lynch. This equation of experience and youth should culminate into success for the 49ers run defense next season.
I’ll admit, the 49ers’ secondary was demolished by free agency. CBs Terell Brown (32 tackles and 10 passes defended) and Carlos Rogers (47 tackles and eight passes defended) and SS Donte Whitner (89.5 total tackles, 66.25 solo tackles and 8.5 passes defended per season to go along with 6 interceptions and 6 forced fumbles in the past 4 seasons as a part of the Bills and Niners) were all extremely important parts of this 49ers’ secondary and will definitely be missed. Still though, Free Safety Eric Reid and CB Tramaine Brock both stayed along for the ride. Even though all of those corners did leave, the 49ers brought in a plethora of talent during the off-season that they can mix and match in order to find the best fit. CB Chris Culliver (47 tackles and 14 passes defended in 2012) will be returning after a year-long hiatus to pair up with newly acquired SS Antoine Bethea (averaged 100.75 tackles, 1.75 interceptions, and 5.875 passes defended over eight seasons with the Colts) and CB Chris Cook (recorded 123 tackles and 13 passes defended as a Viking) whom were both plucked out of free agency from Indianapolis and Minnesota, respectively. With the numerous rookies that the 49ers selected in the draft, the 49ers should be more than prepared in 2014 for a great showing. Their draft picks included SS Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois (six interceptions and 89 tackles in 2013), and CBs Dontae Johnson out of NC State (three interceptions and 80 tackles), Keith Reaser from Florida Atlantic University (154 career tackles and 14 passes defended) and Southern Methodist’s Kenneth Acker (46 tackles, 13 passes defended and three interceptions in 2013). I think with Jim Harbaugh as coach, he can work with his defensive coordinators to pick out the best secondary for their ball club. The key is for CBs Culliver and Brock to step up this season and provide for some long-term pass support.
In The End
While the 49ers do have the experience factor over many other teams in the league, the main reason why I have them where I do is because of the losses to their secondary and the injury to Bowman. Without Bowman, the 49ers’ front seven isn’t totally compromised, however they are much less dominant. As well, without the secondary of 2013, who truly knows how successful the 49ers will be. With that said, the 49ers are still incredibly talented on defense. Their front seven with Willis, the Smith tag team, Bowman and Ahmad Brooks will lead them to post-season glory once again next season. The key, however, is through their corner play. I think that even with adversity, Culliver, Cook and Brock will rise to the occasion and make this 49ers pass defense top-10 yet again.
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