In 5-0 49ers, the 1985 Chicago Bears live!

Niners look more old Chicago than new Kansas City

Ray Ratto
October 14, 2019 - 12:01 pm

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

It is now clear to even the most devoted small-sample-size junkies that the San Francisco 49ers are an elite defense-first team, and every minute you choose to focus on Jim Garoppolo as the face, spleen or kneecap of the franchise is a minute wasted on the wrong thing.

Garoppolo is fine enough as things go; above average, occasionally reckless, occasionally electric, mostly a scratch golfer in football terms. He's aggressively okay — better than average but by no means amazing.

What is amazing is the San Francisco defense, which continues to improve on previous performances and so smothered the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday that they are not just 5-0 but a real, tangible and usable standard for the 2019 season. You know, as in, "Yeah, but how do you move the ball on THAT?" good.

In fairness (and you know how we hate being fair around here), some of the 49ers' defensive prowess is the result of the rest the running game provides it. The 49er defense has played for 65, 65, 51, 46 and 50 snaps in five games, a fair result of the offense running the ball 34, 42, 40, 40 and 40 times in those games. But in those games, they rank second in yards and points allowed and in summation far outstrip their offensive counterparts in dominance established, which is not a metric at all but something I just made up to explain this truth.

These 49ers are the antithesis of what their fans have come to believe is 49er football. They are ruthless defenders first and foremost, and the offense is responsible for not screwing up the works by turning the ball over or putting the defense in lousy field position. Everything in football is interconnected, but the 49ers have allowed the fewest yards through five games of any team in this decade. That is a principal part of an era-defining defense, and to have an offensively bent coach like Kyle Shanahan devoting his principal repair of this once-shambolic team to the other side of the ball, and to defending his defensive coordinator Robert Saleh when all of the chattering nitwits outside the room wanted him relegated to the janitorial staff, is a sign of what the 49ers are going to be for the foreseeable future.

If this wounds your fantasy team, well, trade some people. Your concerns don't matter. But the truth is immutable. If you are a 49er fan, (a) God protect your forfeit soul, and (b) be happier when the other team has the ball. This is the early stage of one of the best 49er defenses in franchise history, and while injuries could still lay waste to the plan, Sunday's win over the Rams is the template for this team's future. The offense may catch up at some point (it is, remarkably, on a pace to score 470 points, which would be 43rd in NFL history), but right now, this is a team that looks more old Chicago than new Kansas City.

But if it helps, there hasn't been a team to go 5-0 and miss the playoffs since...uhh, 2016. Make of that what you will.

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