What made the defense of the San Francisco 49ers so vaunted was their ability to rush the passer.
That was their defensive identity as they put up historic numbers in that category. They were an aggressive pass rushing team that would put the hurt on an opposing quarterback.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, that identity is non-existent in 2020.
A large part of that is the loss of Nick Bosa. And it doesn't help that Dee Ford is missing, and Javon Kinlaw hasn't quite started wrecking havoc as DeForest Buckner's replacement. Outside of Arik Armstead and Kerry Hyder Jr., there is no dominating force coming for the pass rush.
Rushing the quarterback just is not the 49ers' strong suit this season, so they must cultivate a new strength that they identify.
So what is the defensive identity of the 49ers?
The identity of the defense is a stonewall pass-coverage unit.
Yes, I am saying the 49ers' greatest strength on defense is now their pass coverage. Everyone behind the defensive line can cover and defend against the pass profoundly, especially the linebackers. They are the reason the 49ers are able to have this as their defensive identity.
Fred Warner is one of, if not THE best coverage linebacker in the game. And Dre Greenlaw is no slouch in coverage either. He definitely has his shining moments and is only going to continue to get better from here. Now I know Kwon Alexander is injured and Greenlaw is just holding his spot for now, but there is a chance Greenlaw keeps a stranglehold as the starter. It only benefits the 49ers since Greenlaw is needed to allow them to have blanket coverage.
As much as the linebackers are the linchpin to this identity, because very few defenses can say they have stout pass covering linebackers, Jason Verrett is a big part of this as well. Verrett is a better cornerback than Richard Sherman because he has proven that fast wide receivers are not a weakness of his. Not to mention that he gives the 49ers flexibility to call more man-to-man coverage should they see fit, which is actually trending higher and higher in usage for them.
Emmanuel Moseley was always regarded as a solid cornerback and both starting safeties in Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are strong players as well. It is just that their fragility is what hurts them in being considered adequate commodities.
Regardless, all of these players that start in the secondary and linebacker can ball out in pass coverage. Just look at what they showcased against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football. They had to defend against a complex offense lead by Sean McVay, along with two superb wide receivers in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Even their tight ends can give fits.
But the 49ers' defense held strong in pass coverage. They looked elite out there.
And while Moseley did give up that final deep pass touchdown, the game was already in the 49ers' hands. Not to mention that it was his first game back from injury, so I am sure he just panicked since he has never played the ball like that by simply sticking his hands in the air.
The 49ers' defense can cover and they do it at a high-level. This is their identity for the 2020 season.