Kwon Alexander’s first game appearance with the 49ers didn’t last long. The linebacker was ejected in the first quarter of the Week 1 opener against the Bucs – his former team – for what was ruled an illegal hit on quarterback Jameis Winston.
But Alexander stuck around longer in Game 2, Sunday’s dominating 41-17 victory over the Bengals in Cincinnati, and made it clear why the 49ers brought him in this offseason to help bolster the linebacking corps.
The 49ers loved the way Alexander (a former fourth-round pick out of LSU) ranged sideline-to-sideline and performed in pass coverage for the Bucs, a weakness for the Niners’ linebackers group in 2018, and he demonstrated both qualities in the win over the Bengals.
Alexander had an interception, three passes defensed and was in on six tackles and was selected by the analytic website Pro Football Focus to its NFL Team of the Week (along with a pair of teammates, defensive end Ronald Blair and running back Raheem Mostert).
Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus noted that Alexander excelled in pass coverage in Cincinnati, allowing three catches for 18 yards on six targets.
Suddenly, the 49ers linebacking corps looks much more athletic in 2019, with Alexander on the weak side, rookie Dre Greenlaw on the strong side and second-year standout Fred Warner in the middle.
After being ejected in the season opener, Alexander said things would be different in Game 2.
"I promise you I will be better next game," he wrote on Twitter.
Alexander lost playing time last season because of a knee injury, and it wasn’t certain he’d be 100 percent by Game 1 of the regular season. Yet he had a great training camp, is healthy and has impressed defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
"He understands how to play football and how to get off blocks, how to play within space, his energy that he brings," said Saleh. "He has, like I said, tremendous football IQ."
Alexander and the 2-0 49ers will try to keep things rolling this Sunday against the 0-2 Pittsburgh Steelers — who have lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season — at Levi’s Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.