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Notebook: D-Line Sets Tone

Posted Sep 11, 2011

The 49ers defense took the field first on Sunday, and immediately silenced Seattle’s rushing game and its athletic quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson.

On its way to a 33-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the 2011 season opener, the 49ers defense came together in its first regular season appearance under new coordinator Vic Fangio.

The unit picked up five sacks, forced two fumbles and recorded an interception from second-year cornerback Tramaine Brock, the first of his NFL career.

But it was the play of the front seven of the 49ers defense which clearly set the tone for the team’s first  victory of 2011 and the first of the Jim Harbaugh era.

“I love playing with those guys,” said starting strong safety Donte Whitner, who signed with the 49ers after playing his last five seasons with the Buffalo Bills. “It’s the first time in my career that I’ve had a front seven like this, to where you really don’t have to worry about runners squirting out of there.”

Seattle’s running backs didn’t have room to run free very often on Sunday. So Whitner, who recorded 140 tackles last season for the Bills, was content to finish the game with five tackles and a pass breakup.

For the game, the Seahawks totaled just 64 rushing yards on 22 carries. More importantly, the 49ers defense maintained its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher for the 23rd consecutive game. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 33 yards on 13 carries, while Jackson, Seattle’s mobile quarterback, rushed for 13 yards on four carries.

Rushing and scrambling was tough on Jackson. The free agent acquisition from the Minnesota Vikings was sacked five times. Defensive tackle Justin Smith and outside linebacker Parys Haralson recorded two a piece, while defensive tackle Ray McDonald recorded one as well.

In reality, the pass rush didn’t take place when the 49ers had built a 16-point lead at halftime. Most of it was supplied early.

Seattle’s first two possessions ended with third-down sacks from McDonald and Smith, respectively.

“The first thing you always want to do is disrupt the offense by putting pressure on the quarterback,” Haralson explained. “With Justin and Ray inside, it’s hard to block them. I think they’re unblockable.”

Even reserves on the defensive line got into the act of disrupting Seattle’s offense.

After Haralson delivered a crushing blow on Jackson in the second quarter, the ball popped out into the hands of defensive tackle Will Tukuafu, who happened to be in the game for his very first NFL snap.

Talk about a first play to remember – Tukuafu recovered the Seahawks fumble and ran it back 12 yards to set the 49ers up at Seattle’s 9-yard line. The turnover resulted in a 49ers field goal and added to the team’s early lead.
“Whenever Justin or Ray need a rest, I just try to make sure our defense doesn’t lose a step,” Tukuafu said. “I saw the ball up in the air for a while. I didn’t come off my guy initially, but I started working towards and got to it at the last second.”

To start the second half, the Seahawks moved the ball successfully in the third quarter, but couldn’t capitalize once they made it a 19-17 game. And once Ted Ginn Jr. supplied two special teams touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the defense went right back to its pass-rushing ways.

Haralson recorded his second sack of the game on Jackson, which also resulted in a fumble. Four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis recorded the fumble recovery with less than a minute remaining in the game to seal the 49ers win.
Notes and Quotes

The 49ers wore commemorative 9/11 ribbons on their jerseys, as well as No. 34 and No. 35 helmet decals to honor the late members of the team’s “Million Dollar Backfield,” Hall of Famers, Joe “The Jet” Perry and John Henry Johnson.

Harbaugh lost his first challenge as a head coach. After return specialist Leon Washington appeared to muff a punt in the first quarter, Harbaugh challenged the initial ruling, but the referees upheld the original call. He did, however, become the first person in NFL history to pass for more than 25,000 yards and win a game as a head coach.

The 49ers improved to 11-0 when quarterback Alex Smith starts and posts a quarterback rating of 96.0 or higher. He finished the game with a quarterback rating of 97.7.

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