Top-Ranked 49ers Defense Marching Toward Playoff History: Insider

Arik Armstead

Getty Arik Armstead celebrates the first sack of the game on January 14, 2023 in Santa Clara.

The rain may have eased off at Levi’s Stadium during the Super Wild Card Weekend opener on January 14, but the league’s No. 1 defense, the San Francisco 49ers, poured all over the Seattle Seahawks.

In beating Seattle 41-23, the defensive unit made its first step toward chasing history, according to Heavy Sports’ Matt Lombardo.

“The 49ers are trying to be the first team since the 2015 Broncos to win a Super Bowl after finishing with the NFL’s No. 1 defense. Denver produced seven turnovers, scoring 21 points off them that postseason. S.F. already with eight points off two turnovers today,” Lombardo tweeted.

How the 49ers Flipped a Switch & Turned Up on Defense

It appeared Arik Armstead’s sack on the game’s first offensive possession would set the tone for the Niners. But the first half had the makings of a shootout and the league’s top-ranked defense suddenly looked as though it would need the offense to bail it out when Seattle scored on three of its final four first-half drives.

But then the 49ers’ downpour began with some game-changing moments.

The first one: Charles Omenihu stripped the ball from Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith and Nick Bosa pounced on it. That play stalled a 12-play Seattle drive in occurred inside the 49ers’ red zone.

“When a team gets into the red zone, your thought process is hold them to a field goal,” Omenihu, who led with two sacks on the day,  said after the game. “I just played the call and executed. It’s as simple as that and when we do that, good things happen for us. Getting a turnover is always big. The game was kind of close. And getting the opportunity to get a turnover and change the game is huge, in these types of games especially.”

San Francisco turned that takeaway into a 7-yard touchdown strike from Brock Purdy to Elijah Mitchell. But the defense wasn’t through.

The second one: Following Deebo Samuel‘s 74-yard scamper to extend the 49er lead to 38-17, cornerback Deommodore Lenoir — who had been criticized online for surrendering big passes — stepped in front of Tyler Lockett for the 49ers’ second takeaway.

Seattle didn’t score again until the fourth quarter after the 49ers began to rest their defensive starters.

49ers’ Defensive Performance in a Nutshell

The 49ers went on to surrender 332 total yards of offense, and Seattle matched San Francisco’s number of offensive drives with 10. But the 49ers forced the Seahawks to punt in four of those drives and went on to bottle Seattle to 134 total yards in the second half.

Dre Greenlaw led the way with 11 tackles. Fred Warner followed with six stops including five solo tackles. The All-Pro Warner has seen enough NFL games to know ebbs and flows will happen, which included Seattle’s brief fast start on offense.

“It’s playoff football. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s all about staying even keeled,” Warner said.

The NFL’s best defense got tested under a rainy sky but proved it can wash away its mistakes. In their playoff-opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos’ title-winning team forced one turnover on a forced fumble. Against the Seahawks, the 49ers produced two takeaways.

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