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San Francisco 49ers Shanahan
Photo Credit: Tony Avelar

San Francisco 49ers: Shanahan and his defense can win the NFC West

The San Francisco 49ers are certainly a surprise team through five weeks of the 2019 season. They currently sit atop the competitive NFC West, and their fortune resides in their own hands. Their fans have been longing for the chance to see Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan together. Last season was meant to be the first glance at the duo working together, but a Week 3 season-ending knee injury to Garoppolo delayed their opportunity to work in unison.

This season, the NFL has finally gotten a good look at what it missed, and Shanahan and Garoppolo are more than making up for their lost time. In their first four games of the season, the 49ers rank fourth in yards per game and second in points per game. The offense has been on fire.

Shanahan is known to be one of the best offensive minds in the game, but this quick of a turn around from the 4-12 record of last year is quite remarkable. The team has already matched its 2018 season’s win total and is firing on all cylinders. If you look at why the 49ers are winning, you need to look to their defense for the answer. Garoppolo has been a part of their success, posting an overall OSM grade of 24.59, which puts him as QB16 on the year, with a similar grade as Gardner Minshew and Derek Carr. Garoppolo is helping the team win, but their biggest success has been the play of their defense. 

A dominant defense

While the offense has been undoubtedly impressive, the defense has done equally as well for the bay area faithful. The defense sits at second overall in yards allowed with just 257.5 yards per game. A big reason for the defense’s dominance has been its ability to create turnovers. The 49ers have been able to force 11 turnovers through four games, which is tied for third in the NFL with one less game than most teams. The much improved secondary looks to be a really strong group.

Following San Francisco’s 31-3 decisive win over the Cleveland Browns Monday night, Shanahan gave props to cornerback Emmanuel Moseley. Much of the media will focus on star corner Richard Sherman. Rightly so, as the veteran defensive back had an interception in Monday’s game. However, Moseley has been equally as impressive in place of the injured Ahkello Witherspoon.

During the post-game press conference, Shanahan praised Moseley saying,

“From what I saw, he played a lot like we expected. The game is not too big for E-Man. He’s very competitive out there. He started out with us just how physical he plays and how hard he goes on special teams and he came over and got a lot of playing time on defense and it looked like the same guy. He’s always going to play physically, not turn anything down. And when I did see them challenge him, especially on that go route by our sidelines, there’s no hesitation and he tried to get after it.”

It’s clear that Shanahan is confident in Moseley’s abilities to fill in for Witherspoon and be a valuable piece of their stifling defense. Another player on defense that Shanahan was impressed with was none other than the second overall pick, Nick Bosa.

When asked if Shanahan was surprised by the rookie’s impressive two-sack performance, Shanahan had this to say.

“Not really. Just because I had to go against him in practice and quickly he definitely pissed me off a lot in practice for an offensive coach. Then I get a look at the tape and have mixed emotions because trying to decide which one I was happier with that day.”

Through his first four games, Bosa has looked every bit the part of the second overall pick. He has wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks and will only get more opportunities as he returns to full health, per Shanahan. Bosa has certainly played better than his stats would indicate, and going forward, he should be one of the Niners’ more impactful players.

49ers going forward

This coming Sunday, San Francisco will face their in-division rivals, the Los Angeles Rams. If the 49ers can manage to win that game, they will be in a very favorable position moving forward. The Seahawks and Rams are both very competitive teams, and Shanahan knows it won’t be an easy road ahead. The team is aware that now is not the time to let up on the gas either.

Following the game, Shanahan added, “Every week is a tough week, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. Still got some guys who are waiting to get back from injury, and that game by no means was perfect. I thought our defense played four great quarters, from the first play to the last play. I think our special teams obviously struggled. I was really disappointed how the offense finished in the fourth quarter.”

In such a lopsided game, Shanahan remained focused on the improvements the team needs to make going forward. He was noticeably displeased with the kicking game and the offense’s fourth-quarter performance, especially regarding unnecessary penalties. With such a hungry team looking to play fast and physically, Shanahan should have no problem getting his guys ready to play this Sunday and beyond. Look out NFC, the 49ers are here, and they are ready.

Daniel is a writer for PFN covering the AFC West. He can be found on twitter at @DraftWildcard.

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