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49ers 'D' Shows Up on MNF Stage

Posted Oct 30, 2012

Michael Crabtree took to his postgame press conference wearing sunglasses, the focus of the bright camera lights on the Monday night stage. He was the star of the primetime 24-3 win over the Arizona Cardinals after his two-touchdown performance, but a reporter wanted to ask about his defense.

Would he trade his defensive teammates for those of the Chicago Bears – who also tote one of the league’s other top units?

“Our defense? I wouldn’t trade our defense for nobody,” Crabtree said. “C’mon, man. (One of the) best defenses ever.”

After Monday night’s display, Crabtree may have a point.

Since the beginning of the Jim Harbaugh era in 2011, the Vic Fangio-led defense has put up some eye-popping numbers. The steamrolling unit raised the bar again on the national stage, allowing just 7 rushing yards to tie a single-game franchise mark set on Oct. 1, 1972 against New Orleans.

That’s four decades of 49ers history.

Tailback LeRod Stephens-Howling lifted Arizona from the red with an 11-yard carry on a 3rd-and-19 play late in the first half, giving him seven attempts for 6 yards to that point. But the Cardinals would abandon the run after halftime, calling just one rushing play in the final two quarters.

“It’s all 11,” hard-hitting safety Donte Whitner said. “We feel like we have the most talented defense in the National Football League. Any given game it can be anybody’s big day. Anyone can make the play from defensive line to linebacker and secondary.

“All we have to do is continue to work hard, stay healthy and we’ll be where we want to be at the end of the season if we continue to do that.”

As Whitner said, the 49ers (6-2) are stock-piled with playmakers across all three levels of their defense. Ask the Arizona Cardinals, who were on the receiving end of some vicious hits all night long.

Dashon Goldson re-introduced himself to Early Doucet with a big hit in the second half, much like Ray McDonald did to Stephens-Howling and Whitner did to Andre Roberts earlier in the game. Dave Zastudil might even be sore on Tuesday after punting the ball seven times for Arizona.

But no one had it worse than Arizona quarterback John Skelton, who was punished throughout the game and sacked four times. Justin Smith got things started off with a big hit in the first half, before Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks tore up the offensive line down the stretch. Brooks recorded his fourth sack of the year early in the fourth quarter and Aldon Smith followed it up with one of his own on the next play.

“It’s really just a competition,” Aldon Smith said. “After saw (Brooks) get a sack I knew I had to make a play.”

NaVorro Bowman also added a bell-ringing, first-half sack of Skelton while Aldon Smith notched his second sack of the night later in the fourth quarter. Following both of his quarterback takedowns, Aldon Smith pretended to hit a baseball and watch it sail out the park, an homage to the recently crowned World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

“Hopefully we can follow it up,” Aldon Smith said.

If defense wins championships, the 49ers look they’re building towards another deep playoff run. For the fourth time in eight games, San Francisco held its opponent out of the end zone, matching its season total of four touchdown-free games from 2011. In all, the 49ers have given up nine touchdowns this year, tied with Chicago for the best mark in the NFL. They have only given up two touchdowns in the past five contests, and both came against the New York Giants in Week 6.

With 10 days between games, Fangio and his staff had extra time to scheme for the Cardinals. It paid off for the 49ers.

“It’s amazing how you can come into meetings on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday, on Friday and they steadily give you knowledge,” 49ers defensive captain Patrick Willis said. “You can almost not watch film and go off the report they give you and come out here and play the game. That’s how detailed these guys are. It’s amazing to be a part of this coaching staff and this defense.”

The secondary also showed up big time.

While Goldson and Whitner formed their typical, physical duo at safety, cornerback Carlos Rogers also lowered his shoulder for some big tackles on the evening. Cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown each recovered five pass breakups, which is tied for a single-game high in the NFL this season. In the process, they contained all-world wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to pedestrian totals of five catches for 52 yards.

“Today we were able to come out and play a great game defensively,” Willis said. “I know there’s some things we’d like to correct, but those guys across the board – d-line, linebackers and DBs – played their tail off.”

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