49ers improving against the pass
The San Francisco 49ers have made it clear to the rest of the
NFL that they can stop the run. But can they stop a top-flight
The 49ers get another opportunity Sunday to show what they can
do against a top quarterback when Eli Manning and the New York
Giants come to town for a showdown of NFC division leaders.
San Francisco faced two challenging quarterbacks earlier this
season – and struggled against each. The 49ers allowed a combined
761 yards and four touchdowns passing to Dallas’ Tony Romo and
Philadelphia’s Michael Vick. Those are San Francisco’s two closest
games of the season, and the game against Dallas was the Niners’
But the 49ers have improved against the pass since then, making
a defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL against the run even
Manning could present the stiffest test for that unit since Vick
threw for a career-high 416 yards against the 49ers on Oct. 2
during San Francisco’s 24-23 victory. That comeback win was the
springboard to a 7-1 start that has the 49ers leading the NFC West
by five games at midseason.
”A lot of teams have abandoned the run on us and went to an
aerial attack,” 49ers strong safety Donte Whitner said Friday.
”When it comes down to crunch time and getting in the playoffs,
and playing these other top teams in the NFC, you have to stop
elite quarterbacks to get to where we want to go. This is just
another step to show that we’ve made a lot of improvement.”
The 49ers rank 22nd in the NFL in pass defense, but they have
allowed an average of only 245.5 yards through the air since the
Meanwhile, their rush defense has just gotten tougher. San
Francisco has allowed an average of 61.3 yards on the ground in its
last three games, leaving opponents few alternatives but to test
the Niners on the back end.
Manning has played a key role in New York’s 6-2 start, leading
the Giants to four fourth-quarter comeback victories this
”He’s a quarterback that’s been there, that’s played at the
highest stages, that’s played in a lot of big games,” free safety
Dashon Goldson said. ”They have a good quarterback and good wide
receiver corps and it’s going to be another challenge and an
opportunity for us to show what we can do. I think we’re up for the
San Francisco’s secondary has played better since Goldson
returned to the starting lineup after missing the season’s first
two games with a knee injury. That included the 27-24 overtime loss
against Dallas, when Romo and Jon Kitna combined to riddle the
49ers for 432 yards passing.
Goldson is the only member of San Francisco’s starting secondary
to start a game for the 49ers last year. Whitner and left
cornerback Carlos Rogers joined the team in August as free agents,
and holdover veteran Tarell Brown won the starting job at right
cornerback during the summer.
It took a while for the unit to come together. But now it is
regularly making plays like the rest of San Francisco’s
Linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are among the
NFL’s leading tacklers, but they also play on passing downs and
have been strong in underneath coverage against tight ends and
running backs. Bowman has noticed the improvement in coverage by
the secondary behind him.
”It’s those guys just being honest,” Bowman said. ”Everybody
wants to get there in the box and make a play against the run. But
we’ve been having success with a seven-man box and giving our
secondary a chance just to play the pass and focus on that. Those
guys have just been doing a great job of recognizing the pass and
defending it. With us playing a Pro Bowl quarterback this week, I
think they’ll be focusing more on that than trying to stop the
The 49ers have 10 interceptions and lead the NFL with 60 passes
defensed through eight games.