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The 49ers Defense: Perception Vs Reality

What matters is how you fight the big boys.


For those who don't know, the San Francisco 49ers have a very good defense. They have a very good (if not the best) front 7 and their secondary is not to be underestimated. If you play fantasy football, they would be one of the top defenses to choose. While all the talk this week has been about Colin Kaepernick and how he is completely unstoppable (except for when he's stopped), it is this team's defense that has carried this team the past two years.

To hear the pundits, you'd think that the Falcons have zero chance against this defense (sound familiar?) on Sunday. But Atlanta comes into this game with the 7th ranked offense in the league and having just put 30 points on the board against another top 5 defense. So what of the 49ers D? Is it as unstoppable as the media presents?

To get an idea, I'm going to look at how this defense has performed this year (regular season only) against top-10 offensive teams. For reference, here are the top 10 offenses (points scored) for the 2012 season in order of first to tenth: Patriots, Broncos, Saints, Redskins, Packers, Giants, Falcons, Texans, Seahawks, Ravens.

Green Bay - Week 1

Final Score: SF 30 - GB 22

Total Yards surrendered: 348 (303 passing, 45 rushing)

While Aaron Rodgers did get over 300 yards passing, he had a largely ineffective game taking 3 sacks and throwing 2TDs against 1INT.

New York - Week 6

Final Score: SF 3 - NY 26

Total Yards surrendered: 342 (193 passing, 149 rushing)

This was a beat-down, don't let the score deceive you. Eli was very efficient, throwing for 1TD, no INTs and not taking any sacks. Ahmad Bradshaw ran very well on this D, gaining 116 yards on 27 carries. Though the final score was huge, the Giants looked comfortable on offense all day.

Seattle - Week 7

Final Score: SF 13 - SEA 6

Total Yards surrendered: 258 (122 passing, 136 rushing)

Russell Wilson had a very rough day against this defense, completing under 50% of his passes, throwing 1 INT, taking 2 sacks and being limited to only 10 yards rushing. Lynch did run for 103 yards on 19 carries, but the 49ers effectively shutdown the Seahawks all game.

New Orleans - Week 12

Final Score: SF 31 - NO 21

Total Yards surrendered: 326 (267 passing, 59 rushing)

The 49ers defense did a good job of rattling Drew Brees, sacking him 5 times and nabbing two INTs (that both went for TDs). The Saints couldn't get a meaningful running game going, which forced Brees to throw the ball 41 times.

New England - Week 15

Final Score: SF 41 - NE 34

Total Yards surrendered: 538 (443 passing, 95 rushing)

Few people gave the 49ers a chance to win this game, and though they gave up over 500 yards, they held on for an impressive win against the best offense in the league. Tom Brady was sacked 3 times and threw 2 INTs. However, at one point, the 49ers had a 31-3 lead late in the third quarter. The defense got very soft and NE scored 28 unanswered to tie the game.

Seattle - Week 16

Final Score: SF 13 - SEA 42

Total Yards surrendered: 347 (171 passing, 176 rushing)

Though the 42 points weren't all generated by the offense, Seattle stayed aggressive in this game and dominated throughout. Lynch ran for 111 yards and Wilson was very efficient throwing for 4TDs and 1INT and taking only one sack.


In the 6 games the 49ers played against a top 10 offense, they gave up an average of just over 25 points per game. Granted, the last two games skew those numbers up, but it does show that this defense CAN be scored on. The idea that San Francisco is a shutdown defense is not justified by these numbers.

Don't misunderstand - their defense is very good and should not be underestimated in the least. They have numerous playmakers and probably the best linebacking corps in the NFL. They are capable of limiting top 10 offenses, but they're also susceptible to having bad games and being scored on. The Falcons have a formidable task ahead of them, but it is not an impossible one.