You cannot talk about the present day San Francisco 49ers without talking about their stingy defense. Though the Panthers emerged victorious in Week 10, Carolina was stifled all day, intercepted Cam Newton, and was limited to only 10 points. (And that was without a heavy contribution from 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, who had just returned.) The Panthers will need more than that if they hope to beat the 49ers at home this Sunday in the divisional round. We spoke with Tre Faaborg from Niners Nation to talk 49ers defense. Yesterday, we looked at the 49ers offense. Are there weak spots in the 49ers defense? Is that secondary really healthy? Let's find out.
Cat Scratch Reader (CSR): The 49ers defense looked darn near-invincible against Carolina in Week 10, but then have gone on to look mortal against New Orleans, Atlanta, and last week again against Green Bay. What has been the difference?
Niners Nation (NN): Most of us feel like the 49ers defense has played pretty well lately, despite allowing a few more points than they did against Carolina in week 10. Against Atlanta it seemed like they relaxed a bit after jumping out to an early lead, which seems to have been the case in some of the late-season games. Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, and you just can't hold them down without them making SOME noise along the way. We feel like 20 points to that offense is a pretty good job, though. The secondary was playing Perrish Cox in the slot, too, who had been cut earlier in the year and was on his couch practically days before this game. Carlos Rogers and Eric Wright look to be close to 100% for this week, and are expected to play.
CSR: How has the defense changed with the return of Aldon Smith?
NN: Aldon Smith had to transition his way back, both in terms of snap-counts as well as his effectiveness when on the field. Lately though he's posted some positive grades from PFF as well as his 1.5 sacks against the Packers last week (where he was absolutely violated via holding on numerous occasions, including being actually tackled, all uncalled.) The pass-rush in general has seemed to just "almost get there" of-late, but four sacks against the Packers was a nice performance considering Rodgers' escapability.
CSR: Who are the weak links of this strong defense?
NN: The 49ers rotate along the defensive line, and sometimes they have multiple subs in at the same time. It's not uncommon to see a few gashing runs during those subs. I'd say the secondary can be slightly weak at times, especially with a lead, where they play off-coverage with a ton of cushion.
CSR: How healthy is the secondary for this Sunday's game?
NN: As mentioned in a previous response, the secondary should be full-go and near 100% health for everyone involved, heading into the game on Sunday.
CSR: If you had to coach against this 49ers defense, and your life depended upon winning, what would your game plan look like?
NN: Getting my QB out of the pocket or otherwise giving him a ton of time. Almost no secondary can maintain coverage beyond 3-4 seconds, as was the case against Green Bay at times. The run defense hasn't allowed a 100yd rusher all season, but they've given up some short yardage plays that we'd like to see stuffed. Another way is to hold the defensive linemen. Green Bay did this masterfully, focusing on the inside hold that is rarely called. If the refs are "letting them play", I'd say it's an effective strategy, if you're into that sort of thing.
Update: Sounds like Carlos Rogers isn't moving side-to-side, he says if he pulls the hamstring again his year is done...not sounding good for Sunday after Harbaugh told reporters Wednesday that team should be close to 100% for Sunday (I guess Rogers is the fraction-of-a-percent!).
I also took the time to answer questions they had about the Panthers defense. Click here to see the responses!