January 28, 2023
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49ers’ defense, challenged by Kyle Shanahan, believes it can improve

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SANTA CLARA — The 49ers’ defense has been a dominant force in 2022 but after their 37-20 win over the Washington Commanders on Saturday, the group believes they still have not realized their full potential. 

The defensive unit is ranked at the top of the league in most statistical metrics, including allowing an average of only 15.3 points per game, which is the lowest in the NFL by far. The Buffalo Bills rank second allowing 17.5 per game. 

While not taking away from the win, Washington’s 20 points did not sit well with several of the 49ers’ defensive leaders, including nickel back Jimmie Ward.  

“I’m very proud of the guys,” Ward said after the game. “I gave up a cheap touchdown at the end. I didn’t like that. But I’ll watch film and figure out what I can do better on that play. Other than that, we end up making more plays than what they made on offense and we pulled off with the win”

Fred Warner, who led the team with 13 total tackles, eight of which were solo, now has notched his fifth consecutive season registering 100-plus tackles. The team captain believes there is still more work to do and views a shutout as the primary goal in every game. 

The 49ers’ defense forced two turnovers-on-downs, including a goalline stand at the beginning of the second quarter when Washington had four chances to get into the end zone from inside the 5-yard line. The Commanders came away from their 17-play, 79-yard drive empty handed. 

 

“I think all game we had opportunities to really snuff them out,” Warner said. “I think about that first half just playing more assignment sound and getting more knock back in the run game, getting off on third-and-longs. 

“Second half, they got us on a couple of the deep balls. But even then, I think we had opportunities to keep them out of the end zone. We have to do that. It’s always a learning experience. You’re always growing, you’re always trying to find ways to get better and find ways to win. So we’ll look at it hard and we’ll be better from it.” 

It’s easy to argue that Nick Bosa is having the best season of his young NFL career as he racked up two more sacks, setting a new career high with 17.5, which also leads the league. He also had an additional takedown of Washington quarterback Carson Wentz on a two-point conversion that doesn’t count as a sack.

The Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner said coach Kyle Shanahan still called out the group throughout the week leading up to their contest with the Commanders. 

“He challenged the whole defense this week and I think we did a pretty good job,” Bosa said. “He pointed out plays in the team meeting that, as an offense coordinator mindset, he sees openings in some of the plays. He picked out four or five and it showed us there are some holes at certain times that we need to shore up.” 

Dre Greenlaw has been a key contributor for the defense while having a Pro-Bowl caliber season, though he wasn’t selected for the event. He leads the 49ers with 118 tackles — 79 solo, three for a loss while also recording two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

Like his teammates, Greenlaw wants more from himself and the defensive unit going forward knowing that they have a lot more football left to play. 

“We have plenty of room to improve,” Greenlaw said. “It always looks good on the scoreboard when you get the win, but you have to be hard on yourself as a team in order for us to be great and take that step. We have to stop them from scoring. When you allow them 20 points, you don’t like it. You have to do better.”

RELATED: Grading 49ers’ offense, defense in win over Commanders

Coming off their eighth straight win Saturday, the 49ers have an extra day to rest and prepare for their Week 17 matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders on New Years Day at Allegiant Stadium.

 

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