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San Francisco 49ers Make Defensive Statement Against Dejected St. Louis Rams

Michael ErlerCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 04: Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers returns an interception for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams during an NFL game on October 4, 2009 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

We may have been over thinking this conservative offense problem with the hometown gridironers.

In lamenting the limits of 49ers coach Mike Singletary's offensive know-how and imagination and outright criticizing his handling of quarterback Shaun Hill, we've missed what was in front of us all along. Having spent a dozen years as a Hall-of-Fame linebacker for the Chicago Bears between 1981 and 1992, defense is what Singletary knows and understands.

While it's unfortunate that he's not more well-rounded in his football education, the coach at least deserves credit for not bothering to pretend that he is. In taking over the reins for the misbegotten 49ers, Singletary decided from the beginning that he would mold the unit of the team where his expertise would be put to good use, and for the offense he would Keep It Simple, Stupid, until necessity and circumstance would dictate otherwise.

So far the plan has worked better than anyone could've imagined. San Francisco's defense, much maligned in the off-season for their meager pass rush, their reluctance to blitz and their starting safeties (Michael Lewis is limited in coverage, while Dashon Goldson is inexperienced), has been a veritable wrecking crew.

The team only managed 30 sacks last season, but already have 11 in four games this year, despite not changing any of their front seven personnel. Five of those sacks came in Sunday's 35-0 thumping of the Rams, and four of those came on blitzes from inside linebackers, Takeo Spikes and the sensational Patrick Willis, something the team tried for the first time this season.

Manny Lawson declared afterward that San Francisco's linebacker quartet (he, bookend outside guy Parys Haralson, Spikes and Willis) are in his opinion the finest in the league and that their jovial fun-loving mentality enables them to catch opponents off guard.

"We're always smiling and laughing so when offenses see that they thing we're not serious and that they're going to have an easy time against us, but then we bust them in the mouth," Lawson said.

Even in losing a heartbreaker to the Vikings, the Niners harassed Minnesota's Brett Favre all game and knocked him down plenty. They held Adrian Peterson in check that day and had even more success against St. Louis' behemoth running back Steven Jackson on Sunday. In Week One they stymied the Kurt Warner-to-Larry Fitzgerald connection and in Week Two T.J. Houshmandzadeh was hardly heard from until after the game.

The consistent them here, kids, is that offensive stars aren't having the kind of days that make their fantasy owners feel warm and fuzzy against the 49ers.

Singletary said that his guys still miss too many tackles for his liking but admitted that, "it's very nice when you turn on the film and see 11 guys sprinting to the ball."

It's a lot better situation to be in than the other side of the bay, where you have 53 guys sprinting to their mailboxes to collect their paychecks, but I digress.

Singletary has gotten his defense to buy in to his methods, and that's the most important thing. As he said on Monday, what he wants from his limited offense is to just take care of the ball and make opponents work for every point they get. If teams are going to have to march 80 yards down the field to score against the 49ers, they'll be in for long afternoons.

And hopefully, as was the case yesterday, the defense will either score on their own or give the offense good enough field position to have a decent drive or two to win the game.

It won't be pretty to watch, but for most weeks during San Francisco's underwhelming schedule, it should be effective.

Granted this performance did come against the Rams, whose backup quarterback Kyle Boller was completely awful. It wasn't even the first goose egging St. Louis has suffered this season (the Seahawks also did the deed in the season opener) and from the looks of them, it won't be the last either.

The Rams have been outscored by an average of 27-6 so far this season. The 0-16 Detroit Lions last year lost by 15.6 points a game. Even the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, widely acknowledged as the worst team in NFL history, only lost by 20.5 points per game.

The stats for the 49ers were a lot prettier. They recorded their first bagel since drilling the Saints at New Orleans 38-0 on Jan. 6, 2002; a span of 119 games. It was their most lopsided win since smacking around the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick 50-14 on Dec. 7, 2003, which was 87 games ago.

The 177 yards they allowed were the fewest since giving up just 127 to the Bears on Sept. 7, 2002, and the 82 passing yards they surrendered were their least since they victimized Chicago once more on Nov. 13, 2005, when they allowed only 69 that day (and lost anyway 17-9).

There will be time to bother ourselves with concerns about the offensive line or the playcalling. Today isn't it.

When a team wins 35-0 you simply smile, give them credit, and pause to consider the possibility, however slight, that maybe the coaches know more than you do how to do their jobs, as frightening as the thought may be.

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