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NFL preview 2019: How 49ers' defense stacks up against NFC West rivals

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NFL preview 2019: How 49ers' defense stacks up against NFC West rivals

Does defense still win championships?

Based on the way the NFL has evolved over the last several years, with new rules emphasizing the protection of quarterbacks, one has to wonder. It's a different game now. Scoring is at an all-time high. Last season, NFL teams combined for 1,371 touchdowns, the most in a single season in the 99-year history of the league.

What realistic chance does a defense have against modern offenses, under current rules? That depends on the contents of each respective defense, but one thing is clear: It's not a fair fight.

The NFC West likely will exemplify that fact this coming season. One could make the case that the strength of each team in the division is its offense, and if the critical players remain healthy, they're bound to put up huge numbers.

Still, though, it's not like the NFC West lacks for defensive talent. There are numerous Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers on the defensive side of the ball, and several promising young players making the ascent to that level.

Based on the offseason developments, here's how the NFC West defenses rank with training camp only weeks away:

1. Los Angeles Rams

When it comes to the Rams' defense, everything starts and ends with Aaron Donald.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is a one-man wrecking crew. He led the league with 20.5 sacks last season, and his 113 total pressures led all interior linemen by a wide margin. With all the double and triple teams he faces, it allows the other members of the defense to thrive.

Ndamukong Suh and Lamarcus Joyner are gone, but Los Angeles acquired veterans Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle in free agency. Weddle will join a defensive backfield that includes former standouts Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, rising safety John Johnson and second-round draft pick Taylor Rapp.

Matthews and Dante Fowler -- who was brought back on a one-year deal -- both have double-digit sack potential, roaming in Donald's wake.

2. San Francisco 49ers

Since 2015, the 49ers have used four first-round draft picks on defensive linemen. Additionally, they traded a second-round pick to Kansas City for Dee Ford. It's time to put up or shut up.

Based on talent alone, one could make the case San Francisco has the best defensive line in the NFL. Even if it's not the best, it certainly has the potential to be up there.

Ford is coming off a season in which he recorded 13.0 sacks and seven forced fumbles and led all edge rushers in quarterback pressures. Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner made the leap last season, leading the 49ers with 12.0 sacks. Add in former first-round picks Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas, as well as 2019 No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa, and it's easy to see why opposing quarterbacks should be very, very afraid.

San Francisco will need that defensive line to live up to its potential, though, because the rest of the defense has quite a few question marks.

The 49ers' biggest defensive free-agent acquisition came in the form of linebacker Kwon Alexander, who offers lots of promise at the position, but is coming off a torn ACL. If he can stay healthy, Alexander and Fred Warner could form a near-ideal linebacking duo for the modern NFL.

Richard Sherman has one cornerback spot locked down, but the rest of the defensive backfield seems to be in constant flux. At safety, neither Jaquiski Tartt nor Jimmie Ward has proven the ability to stay healthy, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon took a step back in his sophomore campaign.

If the 49ers' defensive line fulfills its promise, it'll make life a lot easier on everyone else.

3. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals' defense wasn't as bad last season as their record indicated. When you're the worst team in the league, your defense faces a lot of short fields. That's something new head coach Kliff Kingsbury and new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph hope to change this coming season.

They've got some talent to work with. Linebacker Chandler Jones has recorded more sacks (41) than any other player since 2016. The Cardinals added former Arizona State legend Terrell Suggs in free agency, and he can still get after the quarterback after totaling 7.0 sacks last year.

The defensive backfield might be the strength of the team, with future Hall of Famer Patrick Peterson holding down one cornerback spot after his six-game suspension, and 2019 second-round draft pick Byron Murphy likely manning the other. D.J. Swearinger and Budda Baker form a quality safety duo.

[RELATED: These three players are most important to 49ers' success]

4. Seattle Seahawks

My, how times have changed.

After years after possessing arguably the top defense in the league, the Seahawks took a step backward last season, and they might take another this year.

Bobby Wagner is still one of the best linebackers in the league, but there's a significant talent dropoff after him. Seattle traded away defensive end Frank Clark, who notched 32 sacks over the last three seasons combined. L.J. Collier was drafted in the first round as an eventual replacement, but it would be wildly unfair to expect him to make the same kind of impact in his rookie season. Free-agent signee Ziggy Ansah has a bunch of talent, but health is a constant concern.

With Earl Thomas departing for Baltimore and Kam Chancellor retiring, the "Legion of Boom" era is officially dead. And, looking at their current defensive backfield, it's going to be a while before it is revived.

Kyle Shanahan explains 49ers' choice to hire Chris Foerster as consultant

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Kyle Shanahan explains 49ers' choice to hire Chris Foerster as consultant

October 9, 2017 is a day Chris Foerster would like to take back. 

It’s the day a video of him snorting a white powdery substance in the Miami Dolphins’ facility went viral. Shortly after, Foerster resigned, and he has not coached again in the NFL.

Technically, Foerster still isn’t a coach, but rather a consultant for the 49ers, a role he has held since the 2018 offseason.

ESPN’s Jenna Laine first reported Foerster's role with the 49ers on Friday.

After the news broke, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area exclusively about Foerster, his role with the team and why he wants to help him on his path back to redemption. The two men spent four seasons together in Washington, where Shanahan was the offensive coordinator from 2010 to 2013.

“We found out about it [the video] when the whole world found out about it,” Shanahan said. “When it happened, we were as shocked as anyone, from my wife to anybody. It’s nothing I’d want to stick up for. These are extremely bad things that I know he’s not proud of, and I’m not proud of.

“He did something extremely stupid, and since then, he has hit rock bottom. He went to rehab for 60 days, and then he was in a 90-day outpatient rehab. For the last two years, he’s been in a 12-step program that he’s been to every single night seven days a week.”

Shanahan also explained why the 49ers didn’t make Foerster’s role with the team public from the beginning.

“If he was fully on our coaching staff, going to practice and going to games, I understand that it’s something that I’d have to address, but he’s not,” Shanahan said. “He’s in a consulting role. A lot of teams have consultants. I understand the ramifications of that, and why people will ask why I didn’t say anything about it.”

Shanahan made his feelings about Foerster’s actions very clear, which is why giving him a second chance does not come without restrictions.

“He is still in a consulting role because I do understand the seriousness of this matter,” Shanahan said. “We’re trying to ease him back in. I understand how big of a problem he did have. I also understand what he’s doing in committing to fix that problem. We’re trying to give him a chance to get back on track.

“I also understand that people make huge mistakes, and ... he’s trying to make amends and he’s trying to make it right.”

Technically, NFL rules state that a consultant without a coaching or team contract is allowed to participate on the field during practice but not during games. Foerster, however, has been relegated to watching film and attending position group and team meetings.

Shanahan explained that it has been a gradual process in which Foerster has had to earn his way back into a role with the team. It was a calculated risk Shanahan was willing to take.

“To help him with a job and make some money, and also because he’s good at it, we gave him a consulting role last year,” Shanahan said. “He helped us from afar with advanced scouting reports and things like that. He would just look at teams the week ahead and send us some information, all typed up because he was never in town.

“This year, we took it a step forward. We brought him in part-time but still a consultant, but he is in the office at times. He’s able to do things like watch film with us, but he’s still in a consulting role.”

Shanahan and the 49ers are holding Foerster to a high standard — possibly higher than anyone else in the building. Thus far, he has done everything they have asked of him.

"We are not going to act like flat out it didn’t happen and just let him back in right away,” Shanahan said. “We are taking a very slow process, and that’s why we did the first year the way we did and why it led to the second year.”

Ultimately, Shanahan and the 49ers have given Foerster a chance to rebuild his professional life while he tries to piece back together his personal life as well.

“He’s done that exactly the right way for two years,” Shanahan said. “We will see if he continues to do that, and then we will reassess that after this year. If it continues to go well, I think he has a chance to get his life back on track. And that’s really all we are trying to do.”

Shanahan believes that no matter where Foerster is, as long as he stays on the straight and narrow, he is a valuable asset.

[RELATED: 49ers vs. Chiefs live stream: How to watch NFL preseason game online]

“Whether it helps him with the 49ers or helps him somewhere else, I know he’s a good coach who went through a very hard time, made some huge mistakes that he is dealing with, and deserves to deal with those because they were messed-up things,” Shanahan said. “I also know how he feels about those mistakes and what he’s done over the last two years to try and make amends, and I know he’s continuing to do that.

“I’m just pulling for him that he can keep up with it. If he does keep up with it, then whether it’s with the 49ers or with someone else, you’re going to get a good person and a good coach. I’m just really hoping that he can get back to being the healthy guy I knew in Washington, and that’s what I see so far.”

49ers vs. Chiefs live stream: How to watch NFL preseason game online

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49ers vs. Chiefs live stream: How to watch NFL preseason game online

Every human has a place or venue that brings back painful memories or nightmares. It might be school, a place where someone got dumped, or maybe a particular street or highway where someone gets into an accident.

For Jimmy Garoppolo, that place might just be Arrowhead Stadium. The last time he stepped on the turf in Kansas City -- Garoppolo tore his ACL on a scramble while trying to cut back -- ending his 2018 campaign.

And yet, that is where he and the 49ers are headed Saturday as they take on the Kansas City Chiefs for each team's third preseason game. Jimmy G is expected to get the start, although head coach Kyle Shanahan has been coy about how much playing time will be had for the quarterback.

Garoppolo had a dreadful preseason debut Monday, completing just one of six passes for zero yards and throwing an interception against the Denver Broncos.

Reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes III will start for the Chiefs, who lost 17-7 to the Steelers in their most recent preseason appearance.

[RELATED: Jimmy Garoppolo's struggles don't faze 49ers' Richard Sherman, NFL scouts]

Here's how you can watch 49ers-Chiefs: 

Start time: Saturday, Aug. 24, at 5 p.m. PT
TV channel: CBS (KPIX) 
49ers live stream: fuboTV -- Get a free trial