The San Francisco 49ers defense is the stingiest in the NFL. That’s a fact. Allowing just 230 points overall and yielding 4,355 total yards, DeMeco Ryans’ defense is the top-ranked unit amongst the 32 teams.
The Las Vegas Raiders certainly know all that and putting up points against a stout 49ers group is going to be a tall task. Benching starting quarterback Derek Carr and turning to backup Jarrett Stidham in the final two tilts certainly compounds that, but the Silver & Black have no choice but to move forward. And it’s not like the Raiders offensive cupboard is bare.
Las Vegas still boasts league-leading running back Josh Jacobs and elite wide receiver Davante Adams. That duo still causes concerns for opposing defensive coordinators, despite the Raiders lack of overall success at 6-9. Don’t expect Ryans to sleep on Las Vegas despite the pivot at signal caller.
Las Vegas offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi isn’t expecting anything less than the 49ers defense to continue to be a sound unit.
“They’re fundamentally sound, they play fast, they play hard. Their effort is one of the best in the league and I think it shows up in situational football,” Lombardi said during his mid-week press conference. “They’re top in the league in pretty much almost every category. I mean, the scheme, it is what it is, they play a certain number of things, but they play it well and they make sure they’re all connected. I think that’s the biggest thing, they’re all connected in terms of their adjustments, how they align, how they adjust to different formations.
“Like I said, this is one of the better defenses we played all season and we got to be ready to go because they play physical, they play fast, they can rush the passer, they can stop the run, and they can cover.”
From front to back — defensive line, linebackers to secondary — San Francisco’s defense provides the perfect challenge (albeit one that could potentially be a domineering suffocating force) for the Raiders offensive staff to see what they have sans Carr. Head coach and play caller Josh McDaniels spoke about wanting to see what the team has in younger quarterbacks like Stidham and new No. 2 Chase Garbers. And squaring off against the league’s best defense is the ideal litmus test — for better or worse.
It’ll allows McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler more concrete proof the long-term answer for the quarterback position is either in the draft pool or on another team. Most likely, Stidham and Garbers show they a better suited options for the backup roles in Las Vegas.
Still, San Francisco’s defense can be a confidence annihilator-type unit. Edge rusher Nick Bosa paces the team with 17.5 sacks while linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner are tops in total tackles with 119 and 110, respectively. Young and hard-hitting safety Talanoa Hufanga leads the secondary with four interceptions to go along with 84 total tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. The 49ers excel at rushing the passer, stopping the run, covering receiving options, and tackling which left Lombardi speaking of Ryans in high fashion.
“They make you earn every yard. The longest run all season is 25 yards versus Kansas City,” Lombardi noted. “So, I mean, they’re doing a really good job in terms of all levels of football with a back end, linebackers, front seven. I mean, they do a really, really good job. Set the edge, get up the field. I can’t speak highly enough about how Coach Ryan just coaches this unit and where they’re at right now.”
Scheme and athletic ability combine to provide the 49ers something the old-school Raiders used to do very well: Speed at every level of the defense. That fleet-footed nature along with the ability to diagnose quickly allows San Francisco to flow to the ballcarrier and ruin the opposing offense’s designed plans.
“And like I said, their speed on defense is very, very good,” Lombardi added. “So, when you have good speed on defense, your coverages kind of can play out to how you want them to play out and there’s not many adjustments that have to go to it. And they do a really good job with that. Really, really good job.”
The Raiders scoring points will come at a high premium this Sunday, but stranger things have happened in 2022.