The San Francisco 49ers defense has quietly put together a solid season. Through the first 11 games, they are allowing the sixth fewest yards per game in the league. During their current three-game winning streak that ranking jumps to second best.
While the offensive time of possession has helped them to face fewer plays, the changes go deeper.
Losing Dee Ford following their week seven loss to Indianapolis forced the 49er defensive staff to make a number of adjustments along the defensive line.
Among the changes was moving Arik Armstead to defensive tackle full time and replacing Armstead with Samson Ebukam at defensive end. This seems to have helped the interior of the defensive line, especially with run defense. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans was asked about this on Thursday.
“Yeah, I think with the run defense, it’s been all of our guys inside. I feel like they’ve all played better, starting with D.J. Jones. He’s been in there. He’s done a really good job of attacking and making plays inside,” said Ryans. “You see Kevin Givens stepping in and making a huge play for us there last week. And Arik has done a really good job inside as well, so all of those guys, Kentavius Street, Arik. D.J., just collectively as a group, all of our guys inside have played well.”
D.J. Jones has always been looked at as a strong presence in the middle of the run defense. On Sunday against Minnesota, Jones’ biggest play may have come against the pass.
On the first play of the second half for Minnesota, 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair was able to intercept Kirk Cousins and set the offense up inside the five-yard line.
While Al-Shaair gets credit for the interception on the stat sheet, it was a play by Jones up front that helped set it up.
“If he doesn’t do what he did, with getting his hands up there, Kirk Cousins is able to make a clean throw there,” said Ryans. “So, I think that D.J. getting his hands up, affecting the quarterback there, it has everything to do with Azeez being able to get that interception. And Azeez also did an awesome job of redirecting his body and being able to make that catch. It was a tough catch, but all credit goes to D.J. with him getting his hands up, affecting the quarterback. Something we’ve been trying to instill in our guys more: How can we affect the quarterback? And that’s of course getting our hands up when we are close.”
This week in Seattle, the 49ers defensive front will face a different type of test. While Russell Wilson has not performed up to his standard throughout much of this season, he can still cause problems for defenses with his ability to make big plays on the ground.
The 49ers defense saw this first had during the first matchup between these two teams in week four. With the game tied at seven late in the third quarter, Wilson was able to escape the pocket for a 16-yard touchdown run to give Seattle a lead it would never relinquish.
If San Francisco is to come out on top this Sunday, they will need another strong effort from their defense, and it starts with the guys up front.