Last season, the 49ers defense was almost helpless against the run.
The 49ers ranked 29th in a 32-team league, giving up an average of 126.2 yards per game. They also gave up 20 touchdowns on the ground, tied for worst in the NFL with Atlanta.
So as the Niners prepared to play the Los Angeles Rams Monday night, there was concern about whether a revamped San Francisco defense would be able to stop one of the league’s best backs in Todd Gurley.
The answer? Yes they could.
In one game against the 49ers in 2015, Gurley rushed for 133 yards. On Monday, in a 28-0 San Francisco victory, Gurley had just 47 yards on 17 carrries.
In fact, the 49ers defense as a whole – albeit against what appears to be a horrible Rams offense – played very well. After one week, the 49ers rank No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, having allowed just 185 yards, No. 1 in pass defense, having allowed just 120, and No. 2 in rush defense (only 65 yards).
Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman was at the center of the 49ers defense, playing as well as he ever has, roaming from sideline to sideline and stopping the run while intercepting a pass.
Head coach Chip Kelly said the 49ers’ defensive mission was to first stop Gurley.
“We felt good about our defense going into this game, but you never know until you get a chance to go out there,” Kelly told the media after Monday’s victory. “To hold Gurley, who I think is one of the top backs in the league, to under 50 yards, I think that’s a good day for us defensively.”
San Francisco held Gurley to just 2.8 yards per carry and intercepted quarterback Case Keenum twice, both setting up touchdowns.
Kelly called the win a team effort, praising the offense, defense and special teams. He pointed out his team won the turnover battle (2 to 1) and the fact his team was penalized just twice for 10 yards.
Now, the 49ers have a much more difficult task. They’ll have a short week and have to fly to the east coast to take on the defending NFC-champion Panthers Sunday at 10 a.m. (PDT).