SANTA CLARA — Where’s the most scenic spot to view the NFL’s best run defense? Kyle Shanahan enjoys it from an up-close view on the sideline. Even better, however, is what he sees on the film afterward.
“You can feel it on the field. You get the more appreciation when you watch the tape,” Shanahan said.
Case in point: Immediately after the 49ers got stopped on fourth-and-1 on their first offensive series Sunday, Nick Bosa tackled Brian Robinson for a 1-yard loss at Washington’s 14-yard line, a play that looked even more dominant on film as it recouped momentum toward a 37-20 win.
It’s the type of run stop that reflects the 49ers’ top-ranked defense, not to mention the all-around excellence of Bosa, who Wednesday got named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time tbis season and a franchise-record fourth time in his career.
49ers Nick Bosa wins his second NFC Defensive Player of Week award, franchise-record fourth of career
Leads NFL with 17.5 sacks on #1 defense. #DPOY
Has 1 sack or more in 12 games, T-4 in NFL history behind Ware (14), Houston (13), Jones (13) https://t.co/e9938aEcl9
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 28, 2022
Next up for the 49ers is an intensely frustrated Josh Jacobs, the Raiders’ 1,539-yard, 11-touchdown rusher who has six 100-yard games this season. He was held to a season-low 2.9 yards per carry (15 carries, 44 yards) in Saturday’s 13-10 loss at Pittsburgh.
“I’m tired of dealing with this (crap),” Jacobs told reporters after that loss, per The Athletic’s Vic Tafur. “Every day I come here and bust my (butt) and I see the guys busting their (butt) and the result is not there.”
Jacobs is a pending free agent.
“For me, the last four years, the result has not been there,” Jacobs added. “And quite frankly, I don’t know what else to do.”
He could get confounded more by a 49ers’ defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, nor 90, 80, 70 or even 60 yards to anyone.
Washington’s ball carriers averaged just 2.4 yards per attempt in Saturday’s 37-20 loss to the 49ers, with Brian Robinson limited to a 2.6-yard average (58 yards, 22 carries).
Robinson’s 58 yards tied for the second-most allowed to an opposing rusher this season, matching Javonte Williams (15 carries) in the Denver Broncos’ home win in Week 2 and just a yard shy of Caleb Huntley’s 59 yards (16 carries) in the Atlanta Falcons’ home win in Week 6. The next-most yards came from Christian McCaffrey (54 yards, 14 carries) in his penultimate game for Carolina before getting traded to the 49ers.
Why are the 49ers so successful? Simply, Shanahan credited the defensive line’s penetration and the linebackers’ ability to track the ball.
“When you have penetration in backfield, that affects running backs the most with how they start and stop with their feet,” Shanahan said. “When you do that, that leaves some vulnerability to linebackers, because playing pass first and run second, that keeps them in hard positions.
“As hard as our guys penetrate, we have three linebackers off the ball who can adjust as good as anyone.”
Enter: Pro Bowler Fred Warner (111 tackles), Dre Greenlaw (118 tackles) and Azeez Al-Shaair (26 tackles).
Warner and Greenlaw swarmed to the ball for short-yardage stops on a goal-line stand and another fourth-down play, all of which the film showed how dominant the 49ers’ penetration was with defensive tackles T.Y. McGill, Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw.
Not to be forgotten is the run support provided on the edge by Bosa, as well as from nickel back Jimmie Ward and Pro Bowl safety Talanoa Hufanga.
“There are so many levels of the defense with guys playing so physical, that when guys make mistakes just by being so physical, there’s another whole line of defense there,” Shanahan added. “Also, a lot of teams haven’t been able to stick with it, which means we do good on third down and get them off the field.”
The 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown in their past five games, and in 8-of-15 games this season.
The 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown in their past five games, and in 8-of-15 games this season. The nine rushing touchdowns they’ve surrendered all season are two fewer than their 2019 slate (in 16 games); their 2011 defense yielded just three rushing touchdowns all season, and their 2012 and ‘14 teams allowed just seven rushing touchdowns.
“I always enjoy it more on tape,” Shanahan added.