By Jerrell Richardson
San Francisco’s recent return to relevancy has been due to their defense. They have had contributions from the offense and especially special teams, but it’s no secret that the defense has led the way. The recognition, though, has been primarily for the guys up front, and until now rightfully so. Last year the team did not allow a rusher to reach the end zone until their 14th game; they were as dominant as any team in history against the run. The team’s leader is linebacker Patrick Willis, and up front are the Smith’s, Aldon and Justin, and a plethora of big name players, so it’s hard for the secondary to get any attention. However, it’s the pass defense that has elevated its play, so they should be given a ton of credit, as not only have they compiled league leader numbers (allowing 173.4 through the air), but they have done it against some of the NFL’s best. So who are these guys?
Carlos Rogers (Cornerback)
The defensive back who gets the most attention is Carlos Rogers. He was acquired through free agency in 2011 and brought with him a reputation for not making the big play, despite being in a position to do so. He landed in San Francisco with a splash, quickly silencing his naysayers and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. He has dropped a few interceptions this year that would have changed the momentum of those games, but he plays defense for a reason, so he can’t be criticized too harshly for not having great hands.
Donte Whitner (Strong Safety)
Fans get a glimpse in the past when watching Whitner fly around the field. Like Rogers, he was added to the team in 2011 through free agency and has brought a physical presence to the secondary that reminds fans of the Ronnie Lot era. Whitner gave his best Lott impression in last year’s divisional playoff game against the Saints, dislodging the ball from running back Pierre Thomas, knocking Thomas from the game, firing up the crowd and showing that ball carriers must be mindful when coming across the middle. Whitner is a ball hawk who adds the occasional interception, can force a fumble and is stout in run support.
Dashon Goldson (Free Safety)
The 49ers drafted Dashon Goldson in 2007 and immediately made room for him in the starting lineup. He has worked hard to improve at his position and in 2011 earned a Pro Bowl selection. He also doesn’t mind contact, and his eight interceptions since the start of last year make him the most complete safety in the game today.
Tarell Brown (Cornerback)
The 49ers found a winning formula in 2007 as they also selected Tarell Brown that year. Unlike Goldson, he did not crack the starting lineup until 2011, but he started all 16 games last year and proved worthy of the job. He was injured in the team’s loss against the Giants in the NFC Championship Game and he may have made a difference if he had been on the field.
The Teams Behind the Numbers
What is so impressive about this group is that they have shut down the others team’s passing game (for the most part), all while facing the Packers, Lions and Giants, who are three of the toughest teams to stop through the air. This group is fast, physical, talented and should be given just as much credit as the rush defense for the team’s success. As the league is slowly trending to more pass dominant teams, it bodes well for the 49ers that they have the personnel to not only hold their own, but to do better (statistically) then any other team.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.