The first words from Seattle quarterback Geno Smith after losing to the 49ers were: “They’re a great defense.”
Of all their league-leading categories, here’s one to watch with three games until the playoffs: 15.0 points allowed per game.
That won’t threaten the best marks in league history, or even the past 25 years, as highlighted by a pair of Super Bowl-winning teams: the 2000 Baltimore Ravens (10.3 points per game) and the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs (12.3 ppg).
This could be one of the 49ers’ all-time stingiest defenses, however.
The 49ere have not allowed over 17 points in any game during their seven-game win streak, a stretch last accomplished by their 1984 championship team.
Here is a look at the 49ers’ past, present and future defenses:
This could be only the eighth season in the franchise’s 77-year history that opponents fail to score 15 points per game. (A list of the 15 best averages is at the bottom of this post.)
That threshold includes just one of their five Super Bowl-winning seasons: 1984, when their league-leading defense allowed 14.2 points per game and featured five Pro Bowlers: Ronnie Lott, Keena Turner, Eric Wright, Dwight Hicks and Carlton Williamson. That same quintet was part of the 1981 championship team that allowed just 15.3 points per game.
The 49ers’ initial team in 1946 allowed only 13.5 points per game, good enough for second-best in the All-America Football Conference. The closest to that standard was the 1976 unit (13.6 points per game) en route to an 8-6 record.
As for the past 25 years, the fewest points were allowed in 2011, when coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio came aboard to yield just 14.3 points per game, with the help of All-Pros Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Justin Smith.
The current 49ers can eclipse that mark if they allow 11 points per game over their final three until the playoffs. That 2011 unit ranked second behind the Steelers (14.2 ppg).
Here are the other NFL-leading defenses that kept their opponents’ average under 15 points in the past 25 seasons: 2019 Patriots (14.1), 2013 Seahawks (14.4), 2010 Steelers (14.5), 2009 Jets (14.8), 2008 Steelers (13.9), 2006 Ravens (12.6), 2005 Bears (12.6), 2003 Patriots (14.2), 2002 Bucs (12.3), 2001 Bears (12.7), 2000 Ravens (10.3), 1999 Jaguars (13.6), and 1997 Chiefs (14.5).
The 49ers’ average (15.0 ppg.) is comfortably better than the NFL’s next-best marks, by the Buffalo Bills (17.9), the Denver Broncos (18.1), the Baltimore Ravens, (18.8), the New York Jets (18.8) and the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles (19.1).
Of the 24 touchdowns allowed by the 49ers, 13 have come on runs, nine on receptions, and two on returns (blocked field goal by Seattle, fumble recovery by Atlanta).
DeMeco Ryans, in his second season as defensive coordinator, has flummoxed opponents with an array of looks and schemes. It also helps to have Nick Bosa, a strong candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year with a league-leading 15 ½ sacks and 38 quarterback hits.
Bosa led all defensive ends in fan votes for the Pro Bowl, while other 49ers defenders in the top 10 at their positions were linebackers Fred Warner (first) and Dre Greenlaw (sixth), safety Talanoa Hufanga (third) and cornerback Charvarius Ward (ninth). They’ll find out Wednesday whether they indeed make the Pro Bowl.
“Obviously they have a great pass rush, great front seven, great guys on the back end,” Smith said after the 49ers’ NFC West-clinching 21-13 win at Seattle last Thursday night.
The 49ers also lead the league in fewest total yards (286.1 per game), fewest rushing yards (74.1 per game) and fewest first downs (16.4 per game).
WHAT COMES NEXT
The 49ers’ remaining opponents do not boast intimidating offenses.
Saturday, the Washington Commanders (7-6-1) come to Levi’s Stadium with the NFL’s eighth-worst scoring attack (18.9 ppg.), and they’re coming off a 20-12 defeat to the New York Giants that marked the Commanders’ fourth game this season of 12 or fewer points.
Washington has the NFL’s best time-of-possession average (32 minutes, 45 seconds); the 49ers are next (32:11). The Commanders’ seven rushing touchdowns are tied for the second-fewest in the NFL; the 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown the past four games.
On New Year’s Day, the 49ers make their Las Vegas debut against the Raiders, whose scoring average of 24.1 is tied with the 49ers for 10th-best in the league. The Raiders (6-8) got shut out by New Orleans on Oct. 30, but they’ve won three of their past four, including Sunday’s improbable walk-off win over New England on a 48-yard fumble return as time expired.
The regular season concludes with the 49ers looking to go 6-0 in the NFC West as they host the Arizona Cardinals (4-10). Like last month, the 49ers won’t face quarterback Kyler Murray, who’s been lost to a knee injury. The Cardinals are scoring 20.9 points per game overall, but they’ve lost six of their past seven while scoring 19.4 points per game.
“It’s so fun playing this season, not just in this defense, but when you have guys you truly have a bond with, you have genuine love for,” safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. said. “It makes playing football more fun. I’m just having fun right now.”
POINTS WELL TAKEN
Here are the best scoring averages allowed by the 49ers since joining the NFL in 1950:
13.6 ppg: 1976 (third in NFL)
14.2 ppg: 1984 (first)
14.3 ppg: 2011 (second)
14.7 ppg: 1986 (second)
14.8 ppg: 1992 (third)
14.9 ppg: 1990 (third), ’91 (fourth)
15.1 ppg: 1989 (third)
15.3 ppg: 1981 (second), ‘87 (third)
15.4 ppg: 1971 (sixth), ’86 (third)
15.6 ppg: 1981 (second), ‘96 (tie-fourth)
15.7 ppg: 1985 (second)
*It’s worth noting that seasons shifted from 14 to 16 games in 1978, and to 17 games last year.
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