It seems so easy now, that 24-point win on Thursday. But hindsight and plenty of garbage time in the fourth quarter mask the concern many had going into the 49ers’ recent game against the Rams. The short week seemed harsh after San Francisco got crushed by Indianapolis at home, and the loss of Aldon Smith brought the fear of the unknown.
One can point to the Rams looking like a pathetic mess these days, but the fact remains that the 49ers’ defense smothered St. Louis after very little time to prepare, with several unfamiliar faces making strong contributions.
Greg Cosell of NFL Films talked to Tom Tolbert and Ray Ratto yesterday, and he highlighted four players.
1. NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks
“I thought there were three defenders who really stood out to me on tape. Bowman, he was obvious. I thought that Ahmad Brooks, and he doesn’t get a lot of credit, he didn’t because of Aldon Smith. But I think he’s among the best in the NFL at setting the edge in the run game. He’s strong and athletic, he has great hand usage. He’s a much better pass rusher than people give him credit for.”
Both players are in similar roles — not in terms of the positions they play, but in that they usually play alongside great players who garner a little more attention. Bowman has become a star in recent years, with some people saying he’s as good or better than his partner at middle linebacker, Patrick Willis. With Willis on the sidelines with a groin injury, Bowman jumped off the screen and afterward said, “I woke up this morning and I told my GM, ‘I’m going out here and I’m going to get you this win today.’”
While Willis and Bowman are generally thought of as equals at this point in their respective careers, Brooks was thought of as the “other outside linebacker” last year. This year Brooks is finally getting some recognition, and that should continue if he keeps playing like he did on Thursday, when he had 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries and a pass deflection. That, along with Cosell’s comments about his play in the run game, show why the 49ers are getting great value from Brooks — especially given his contract “de-escalated” by $1.6 million this season.
“The other player who I thought was really, really good was Glenn Dorsey. And I don’t know if you guys have talked about him at all, but I thought he was really effective in controlling and defeating the Rams’ center Wells in the run game. He, to me, dominated the middle.
“(Corey) Lemonier, they moved him to both sides, he played on the right and on the left. I would say he certainly played fine. I didn’t look at him and go, “Wow, that was awesome,” or, “Oh my God, he’s killing them.” I thought he did okay.
“I thought that actually Skuta flashed in the run game. He showed the ability to work the line of scrimmage. He’s always been a player, he’s one of those guys and you hate to use cliches, but they’re cliches for a reason. He’s a guy who’s a high motor/effort guy and he will always make plays away from where he starts because he just doesn’t stop moving. He’s a good guy to be able to put in in this type of situation.”
Yesterday I wrote about how one of the 49ers’ 2013 free agent additions, Nnamdi Asomugha, could lose his job permanently to Tramaine Brock. That free agent signing might get mixed reviews, but Dorsey and Skuta look like absolute steals so far.
According to PFF, Dorsey has graded out as the team’s best defensive player this season — pretty incredible, seeing as Ian Williams beat him out for the starting nose tackle job before the season. Perhaps Williams would’ve thrived as well had he not suffered a broken ankle as the result of a cut block by Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy, but Dorsey has responded with some of the best football of his career.
Skuta was supposed to be a special teams guy, right? In the preseason he opened his eyes at outside linebacker, and now that he’s been given a chance during the regular season the 49ers have to be happy with what they see. Skuta has played well against the run (as Cosell mentioned), but he also had three quarterback hurries of his own against St. Louis.
The 49ers’ defense is full of stars, but they’ll need guys like Dorsey (once a top-5 pick, so perhaps it’s too early yet to say he’ll never become one) and Skuta to take advantage of the opportunities they’ve been allotted thus far. Also, despite Cosell’s lukewarm praise, watch out for Lemonier.