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49ers unbeaten start a victory for faith in player development

49ers unbeaten start a victory for faith in player development

The San Francisco 49ers head into Sunday’s game with the Washington Redskins seeking a sixth consecutive win after an unbeaten start that owes as much to their ability to develop players as it does to the infusion of talent on their defensive front.

San Francisco is heavily favored to move to 6-0 against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. The Niners’ rise to the top of the NFC headlined by the performance of a stacked defensive line bolstered significantly by the arrival of edge rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa.

Ford (3.5) and Bosa (3) have combined for 6.5 sacks in the first six games. Per NBC Sports Bay Area, they rank first and second in Pro Football Focus’ Pass Rush Productivity metric, which determines the overall effectiveness of pass rushers by measuring sacks, hits, and hurries against the opportunities they receive. Bosa leads the way with 14.3 points with Ford (11.8) second.

The havoc Ford and Bosa have wreaked has been pivotal to a defensive transformation from the Niners. San Francisco ranks second in yards allowed per game (237.4), first in passing yards allowed per game (150.2), sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (87.2) and second in points allowed per game (12.8).

San Francisco is finally being taken seriously as a contender after a punishing defensive showing against the Los Angeles Rams in which the 49ers held Jared Goff to 78 passing yards.

While the new arrivals on the defensive line have dominated the headlines around the 49ers, a great deal of credit for their upturn deserves to go to the unheralded players in the secondary, whom San Francisco trusted would excel playing behind a potent pass rush.

The Niners’ faith in their secondary has proven well-founded. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon had been enjoying an excellent start to the season before spraining his foot, and former undrafted free agent Emmanuel Moseley has filled the void superbly in his stead.

Experienced slot corner K’Waun Williams already has two interceptions while safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward, two players maligned for their injury history since being drafted by the Niners, have thrived in Robert Saleh’s aggressive defense. Ward’s sticky coverage was critical to the numerous fourth-down stops the 49ers made in the defeat of the Rams.

The hiring of Joe Woods as secondary coach in the offseason has unquestionably influenced the 49ers’ improved performances on the back end. On the other side of the ball, offensive line coach John Benton – who has been with San Francisco since the start of the Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch era in 2017 – is also worthy of significant praise as the Niners have survived the loss of both starting offensive tackles.

There has been no substantial drop-off on the O-Line without Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. Rookie left tackle Justin Skule has performed admirably through three games while Daniel Brunskill, who was playing in the Alliance of American Football earlier this year, only allowed one pressure at right tackle against Los Angeles.

Plenty of people were calling for the 49ers to make a trade after the injuries to Witherspoon, Staley, and McGlinchey. Instead, San Francisco trusted in the players it has spent time developing. The Niners have seen that trust richly repaid as they have preserved their undefeated record, as well as draft picks that likely would have been used in a potential trade.

The Niners have had to be extremely patient during a rebuild hindered by a mountain of injuries. However, with undrafted free agents such as Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert, along with third and fifth-round picks Fred Warner and George Kittle, also playing starring roles in their surge, that patience is being rewarded in a season that has so far been a vindication of the franchise’s ability to identify and develop talent.

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