The Steelers and Ravens have advanced to the semifinals in our “In the Trenches” bracket searching for the best defense in the NFL. On the other side of the bracket, the 49ers face off against the Eagles for a shot to advance to the next round.
The fans will decide the winner, but here’s what the PFW staff had to say about the matchup:
Senior editor Eric Edholm:
“Could the 49ers be better? I think opponents will be smarter about attacking them — the Saints had success going over the middle against them — but the personnel appears in great shape. Maybe they are a touch weak in the secondary, and the depth is not great. They were extremely lucky with injuries last season. The Eagles were not, and though they have great individual talent, it still must all come together. They might win in the big-play department with more sacks and improved in the turnover department, but the Niners remain the stronger defense until further notice."
Associate editor Kevin Fishbain:
“49ers: The main reason the Niners were a play or two away from winning the NFC was because of that defense. It certainly wasn’t Alex Smith’s doing. Justin Smith is one of the best D-lineman in the game, San Fran has the best inside linebacker duo in the NFL in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and one of the game’s young, premier pass rushers in Aldon Smith. The starters are returning from last year’s unit that was impenetrable against the run. The Eagles have too many question marks, despite having big names.”
Associate editor Arthur Arkush:
“I don’t think anyone would question how loaded the Eagles' 'D' is. I’m also guessing no one will choose the Philly stop-unit over the Niners, who were the No. 2 scoring defense in the league in 2011 and miraculously didn’t allow a rushing TD until Week 16 (that still sounds crazy). I expect Philly to make major strides this season, what with a full offseason in Juan Castillo’s system and a number of new players having a greater chance to gel. But San Francisco is returning all 11 starters from the most dominant defense in the league a season ago, and has plenty of firepower of its own in Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman and Justin Smith, to name a few. It says here this is the best defense in football, bar none.”
Senior editor Mike Wilkening:
“The 49ers have a wonderfully talented defense, with playmakers at every position. DL Justin Smith is a talented, hard-working, tone-setting difference-maker upfront. OLB Aldon Smith showed exceptional pass-rush ability as a rookie. Patrick Willis is the best inside linebacker in the game, and NaVorro Bowman isn’t far behind in the pecking order. The secondary is strong, too, with CB Carlos Rogers and FS Dashon Goldson coming off career seasons. The Eagles have an above-average defense, but the Niners’ 'D' is on another level.”
Producer Mark Schoeck:
“The 49ers have the most complete defense in the NFL. NaVorro Bowman tallied 136 tackles last season, Aldon Smith racked up 14 sacks as a rookie, and Carlos Rogers finally became the player he was capable of becoming. Along with Justin Smith, Patrick Willis leads a crew of defenders performing at their absolute best. They’re better than an Eagles defense that is good and getting better, but has failed to reach its potential the way the 49ers have.”