Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
What getting back three fresh, healthy starters means for the 49ers defense
The 13-3 San Francisco 49ers, wait no, that’s not quite right. The 2019 NFC West Champions, No. 1 seed, first-round bye, 13-3 San Francisco 49ers! That’s been me correcting anyone that has tried to give me a backwards, dry, nonchalant congratulations on my squad’s success this year.
You know how they are, they big mad too. We all know them and have heard, “Yeah, I see your Niners doing pretty good this year, and don’t suck anymore, they may actually have a shot to go back to the Super Bowl for the first time since y’all lost to the Ravens.” First of all, you need to start over and address them properly. C’mon now mind your manners.
It’s the 2019 NFC West Champions, #1 seed with a first round bye, 13-3 but were 4-12 last year San Francisco 49ers!
That looks and feels good, doesn’t it faithful? Go ahead and soak it up; it’s been a long time coming. And yes, no lie, that was real dialogue, with real people. But I’m here for it and so is this special 49ers team. I know it’s been years since they’ve been this good, but they’re back, and the best has yet to come. And as was said repeatedly in the locker room after the win: THE WEST IS NOT ENOUGH!
Celebrating the win but the West is not enough.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 30, 2019
Welcome to (or back) to the Silverado for another ride with yours truly, Kev. Happy New Year to you and yours. You know the drill, go ahead and click that safety belt in and we’ll be on our way. Now I know it’s been almost a week since we beat Seattle last week, but I’m still on a high. Perhaps not the reason most may think, though. But as always, allow me to explain and make it as clear as ice-cold (clear drink of your choice) sprite.
Though it had been eight years and five days (December 24, 2011) since the last time the 49ers walked out of Century Link with a win, that’s not it.
It was also the first time the 49ers beat Russell Wilson in Seattle, but nope, that’s not it either.
Being able to own bragging rights and the right just to talk trash to the 10+2 fans that’s been built up for years now, and press their mute button for awhile. As good as that feels, nope, swing and a miss, do not pass go, do not collect $200, because that wasn’t it either.
The number one reason I’m still high from the win, the 49ers fought for and won their brothers extra time to get healthy and back in the lineup.
As per the tweet, Jaquiski Tartt and Dee Ford are set to be back after the bye week and available for the divisional round, and in addition, the Hot Boy himself, Kwon Alexander is now back at practice as well.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) January 2, 2020
As I alluded to in the following tweet, getting these three back took me back to a special place in my childhood, as it was very reminiscent of one of my favorite cartoons.
So I’m sitting here thinking about getting Dee Ford, @Quaski29, possibly the Hot Boy himself @kwon back, & Earl Earl Mitchell (big body) in the middle for run support. Call me old, but this is all I can think about/Invision. LET’S FORM VOLTRON THEN @49ers faithful! IT’S OUR TIME! pic.twitter.com/DyXTRSeOqw
— Silverado Kev (@Silverado_Kev) December 31, 2019
This always and still does give me chills faithful. Something about that music, watching each lion individually unite to make an unstoppable force, and the sense of reinforced confidence that all will be well. Perhaps it’s just me, but the forming of Voltron scene is epic. It also represents victory and impeccable timing.
The 49ers are about to host their first-ever playoff game at Levi’s Stadium. Let that sink in. More importantly though, the 49ers defense will be as good as its been in recent weeks. I don’t know about the rest of you, but this pic was the perfect way, to sum up the last five games.
I legit have had light heart attacks the last few weeks. They won more than they lost but, sheesh it’s been stressful. Why though? Mainly because, down the stretch, the 49ers defense was missing key pieces in the pass rush and in coverage, to close out games. The lack of pressure and sound coverage due to injuries gave teams the opportunities they needed to stay in games.
Now that the stage is set let’s take a few moments to discuss the key pieces coming back from injury and their impacts on the defense as a collective. This defense gets a playmaker back at all three levels: defensive line, linebackers, and the secondary.
Jaquiski Tartt (12 games, 44 tackles, 31 solo, 2 PD, 1 FF, 1 QB hit, 1 TFL, .5 sacks)
I remember back when the 49ers drafted Tartt back in 2015, most along with myself was scratching their head as if to say, “who?” But, all he’s done since he’s been here is make plays. Although he was out of position (at free safety) for a while, he still made plays.
Once in the box (strong) safety role close to the line of scrimmage where he excels, Tartt has been one of the most effective players on this defense. As seen below, Tartt has shown how valuable he is to this defense in both run support and coverage.
— ConservativeCalifornian⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@NinerNabs49) September 10, 2017
— Dylan DeSimone (@DylanADeSimone) August 25, 2019
Recognizes the run fake, recognizes the screen and obliterates this guy. Excellent play by Jaquiski Tartt. pic.twitter.com/Yl4fFepqcn
— Iggy Cohn (@grantcohn) October 16, 2019
— 49er_Edits (@49er_edits) October 16, 2019
— PFF (@PFF) November 12, 2019
We welcome back Tartt and just in time for the playoffs. His value to this defense deeper than just his physical talents; he’s also a very cerebral player as well. Tartt’s importance was especially missed once he went down with a rib injury vs. Baltimore.
Though Marcell Harris is young and talented in his own right, his missed tackles and coverage busts have been on display since Tartt has been hurt.
Dee Ford (11 games, 14 tackles, ten solo, seven sacks, 6 TFL, 6 QB hits, 2 FF)
Dee Ford was one of the more exciting off-season additions to the 49ers defense, and from the time he took the field, his presence was felt. Unfortunately, due to injury, Ford hasn’t seen much of the field over the second half of the season, and when he has, he’s played through knee tendinitis and currently a nagging hamstring injury.
But make no mistake, while #55 isn’t the MIKE (identified by the quarterback pre-snap), when he’s on the field, opposing quarterbacks know where he is. His get-off is unmatched and is a strip-sack artist.
6.5 sacks, 2 FF, 6 QB hits, 6 TFL, 1 forced INT (all while averaging a mere 20.5 snaps per game over 11 games).
Dee Ford in 2019 was a model of efficiency off the edge — and should be a lightning bolt for the 49ers’ defense in the postseason. pic.twitter.com/1n4a2rHjhJ
— Dylan DeSimone (@DylanADeSimone) January 3, 2020
Dee Ford isn’t practicing but I was told today he’s “supposedly back.” As was the case this season, the #49ers’ veteran pass rusher doesn’t need the practices. Barring any setbacks, he should be ready for next Saturday’s divisional playoff game.
— Dylan DeSimone (@DylanADeSimone) January 4, 2020
The report is, he’s still not practicing at this point but should be good to go when the 49ers host their first playoff game in the divisional round. As I stated in the below tweet, now would be the ideal time for him to be healthy and available for the most important three-game stretch. Mind you, he put up that stat line in limited snaps and over an 11 game stretch. All he and the 49ers need is three (or even two, NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl) games at this point.
You know what’s crazy? I’ve asked myself the same question. But I think about it like this. How ironic would it be for him to be healthy for the three games straight we need the most? Just give us three games D, just three!
— Silverado Kev (@Silverado_Kev) January 1, 2020
Being honest, if he gave this defense two games, I think they would be fine. C’mon Dee; this is it. Just give your squad a few more games, in return, you and your squad get a ring and a sixth championship for the franchise. Three more games of chasing down quarterbacks Dee and the chase for that sixth ring, aka the quest for six, will be complete.
Kwon Alexander (8 games, 34 tackles, 22 solo, 4 PD, 1 FF, 1 QB hit, 2 TFL, .5 sacks)
Kwon Alexander, as we knew it, was done for the season after he tore his pectoral muscle vs. the Arizona Cardinals in week 9. Much like the injury to Tartt, the defense felt the loss of Alexander immediately. Not only is Alexander good in coverage and makes plays in the run game, but he’s also an emotional leader and the fire of this 49ers defense. ROLL TAPE!
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 15, 2019
These are the plays Kwon Alexander made on Sunday….in the second quarter. pic.twitter.com/Gb2ZSfqBaZ
— KP (@KP_Show) September 18, 2019
Kwon Alexander keeps the block hot for the #49ers ‼️‼️‼️
— ourSF49ers (@OSf49ers) December 30, 2019
There were rumblings of a return once JJ Watt of the Houston Texans announced his return to the field after also tearing his pectoral muscle four days before Alexander. The irony of it, they’ve helped each other work through their injuries and rejoin their teams when they need them most.
#49ers LB Kwon Alexander said he’s been in touch with J.J. Watt as they both have worked their way back from torn pectorals suffered four days apart. “I’m happy to see him back. I can’t wait to see him play on Saturday. He lifted me up, too, a little bit. I appreciate him.”
— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) January 2, 2020
The return of Tartt and Ford alone was huge for this 49ers defense, but now add the return of Kwon to that mix, it instantly goes from huge, to legendary!
Sources: 49ers’ LB LB Kwon Alexander is pulling his own J.J. Watt and is on track to play in Saturday in divisional round.https://t.co/a8NKU8ozEu
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 5, 2020
Look for this defense to play even more inspired and motivated football this weekend with the return of Tartt, Ford, and now Kwon! Even if he plays limited snaps initially, his presence alone is a boost to this defense and team.
Okay, we’ve made it back to Levi’s, where history will be made on January 11th. The first playoff game hosted at Levi’s Stadium. I promise Saturday can’t get here fast enough. To add more context to how important this pass rush is to the success of this defense, put your eyes on this eye-popping stat.
— Al Sacco (@AlSacco49) January 3, 2020
You don’t have to be a number guru to understand the importance of having Ford and Alexander back, coupled with stud rookie defensive end Nick Bosa on the field. That QBR of 3 is legendary and speaks volumes! You know what, see for yourself how well those two work together.
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 14, 2019
As Brain Baldinger, aka Baldy, breaks it down in the clip, just look at how having both Bosa and Ford on the field affects the play. I don’t care who the quarterback is; this type of pass rush is a problem.
I know I’ve said it already, but I’ll repeat it. THREE MORE GAMES. Just three more games of the type of defense we saw to start the season and the San Francisco 49res chances of winning their first Super Bowl since 1994 will be that much better. In the words of Baldy, it’s also the return of shark week. The better the defense plays, the more opportunities the offense has to put points on the board.
The front four is what makes this defense go. Of course, sound coverage is needed, but as we know, the pass rush and coverage are married to each other. So long as the rush can get home to collapse the pocket, the rest falls into place.
If not, plays (and the game) can go either way as the secondary has to cover that much longer. That said, the big three (Bosa, Ford, and Alexander) need to force low passer ratings and QBR’s for quarterbacks again.
Look for this defense to be (play) much faster than previous weeks. The 49ers defense is about to reform Voltron (get healthy) right in front of our eyes and at the right time. I said a long time ago, this team is special, and no team wanted to see a healthy 49ers team.
As we speak, they’re getting healthy, and just in time for the Super Bowl run. Starting this Saturday with the visiting Minnesota Vikings. Queue forming of Voltron!
LET’S GO NINERS!