Even though they're short-handed, this 49ers defense has played great football.
Scheme, fundamentals and talent at key positions relevant to the system makes the 49ers such a strong defense; one that has been able to endure losses of key players at outside linebacker, nose tackle and cornerback.
However, week in and week out, the 11-plus contributors on that side of the ball bring their shovels and put teams in the ground. It is a no-nonsense approach for these guys, who fly to the football, tackle well and pride themselves on beating their opponent to the punch in nearly every facet of the game.
They also know when and where they can take risks.
Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks have anchored this unit, but the 49ers have received surprise contributions from all over. And it has been a new event every week. Guys just continue to step up and make plays, supporting the nucleus of the defense, which are the four players mentioned above.
Who knew before the season that third-string defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie would have an interception before cornerback Tarell Brown?
Or that cornerback Tramaine Brock and free safety Eric Reid would be the interception leaders, and arguably the strengths of the secondary?
Outside linebacker Corey Lemonier, the rookie from Auburn, also has made his presence felt. In the absence of Aldon Smith, the pass-rush maven has been flashing his edge skills, proving himself to be a real talent. He recorded his first sack in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals, which also happened to be a game-changing safety.
This week, it was Dan Skuta's turn.
The veteran linebacker and special teams ace had a 47-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. For weeks, it has been big play after big play for a well-built unit that is disciplined within its scheme. The splash plays have all come rushing out, just as Jim Harbaugh alluded to in his "olive jar" reference in the signature game versus St. Louis.
The depth on the defensive side of the ball is truly remarkable and easily the best in the league. Once it gets reinforcements in the coming weeks, this unit might evolve into a totally different animal altogether.