Editor’s note: The 49ers break for the bye week with a 2-8 record. This is part of a series that recaps the first 10 games with an eye to the future. In this installment, we look at the best players on the defense.
During the 49ers 2018 offseason, the unexpected happened. The team signed long-time Seahawks nemesis, cornerback Richard Sherman. Maybe the bigger surprise is how valuable he has been to the team, or maybe it should have been expected all along.
While Sherman has been gradually returning to full health, after repairing his torn Achilles, he has been a mentor and a role model to the young secondary. He has been seen coaching players up in practices as well as after plays where coverage has been blown.
Sherman has been quietly putting together a great season statistically. While he hasn’t had the splashy pass break ups or interceptions, he has been rarely targeted by opposing quarterbacks.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, in eight games Sherman has only allowed 11 receptions on the 24 times he has been targeted through 304 coverage snaps. That gives him 27.6 snaps per reception which ranks the highest in the league.
Sherman has done all of this while not being 100-percent health wise. Coach Kyle Shanahan remarked how valuable that has been to the team.
“The thing that's been great about Richard,” Shanahan said, “just showing other guys how you can play through things when you're not 100 percent and when you do, you've got to still play at a high level that helps you win, and he's done that in a number of situations.”
Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner is the second stand out on the defense. He has registered six sacks on the season which matches his personal high from 2016, and there are still six games left.
Buckner has been a bright spot in the 49ers struggling pass rush. Like Sherman, he has been productive without a huge amount of glamorous statistics. Buckner regularly gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well as forcing them to move out of the pocket without necessarily registering a sack.
Along with Buckner’s six sacks, he has gotten 11 hits on opposing quarterbacks and eight tackles for a loss. He is regularly double teamed which limits his stats.
Earlier in the season, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke about the challenge of Buckner facing double teams.
“DeFo, he plays his butt off, man,” Saleh said. “He gets one-on-ones and he does a good job. Obviously, teams pay a lot of attention to him and that’s where, as a group, we all have to step up.
“If someone becomes a problem, other than to an offense, it’s just going to open up one-on-ones for a lot more people. So, Buck is doing well. Obviously, he wants production, but he knows that he’s producing in other ways and he’s doing a lot of different things that help out this defense. So, he’s definitely something that teams have to deal with.”