49ers Week 12 grades: Defense and special teams

NEW ORLEANS — The 49ers just beat the Saints 31-21. Here are the grades for the 49ers defense and special teams.

Defensive line: B+. Justin Smith had 1.5 sacks – he’s coming on at the end of the season, just like he did last year. Ray McDonald almost sacked Brees on the first play of the game. McDonald didn’t do much the rest of the game. And Isaac Sopoaga was a non-factor.

Linebackers: A. This is the best linebacker group in the NFL by far. Aldon Smith had 1.5 sacks – he now has 16.5 on the season. Ahmad Brooks had 1.5 sacks and a pick-six. He’s one of the most athletic outside linebackers in the NFL. Patrick Willis had a game-high 10 tackles, and he absolutely shut Jimmy Graham down. The Pro Bowl tight end caught just four passes for 33 yards. NaVorro got pushed around in the running game a bit, but he still finished with six tackles.

Secondary: A-. Donte Whitner gave up a touchdown to Marques Colston in the middle of the end zone – Brees threw it up high and Whitner is too short to make a play on that pass. Dashon Goldson let David Thomas roll into the end zone untouched. Tarell Brown gave up a few long passes and was flagged for pass interference, but he batted away a fourth-quarter, fourth-down pass, and that sealed the win. Carlos Rogers played well at left corner, not as well in the slot. Chris Culliver was flagged for a holding penalty – other than that he played very well. This unit would get a “B” grade or lower if it weren’t for Whitner’s pick-six. Goldson made a perfect hit, flipping Colston upside down. The ball popped up in the air. Whitner caught it before it hit the ground and ran it 40 yards for a touchdown. It was one of the best defensive plays I’ve ever seen.

Special teams: D. David Akers missed a long field goal wide left by about five yards, and he had a short field goal blocked. Ted Ginn Jr. fumbled a punt at his 11 yard line – he should have called for a fair catch. Kyle Williams made a fair catch at his 6 yard line – he should have let the ball bounce.

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