Liotta: Niners' defense has stolen the show so far

I’m not trying to be a wise guy, but the 49ers’ 2-0 start runs deeper than their record.

And goes beyond their head coach, who deserves plenty of credit for bringing a sense of order to the franchise that has suffered through a dysfunctional decade of disappointment.

Bring up the Niners’ positive start and the experts point out that their play has been uneven, that their quarterback is not very flashy, that the offense still needs to develop weapons other than Frank Gore.

All polite ways of insinuating the Niners are lucky to be perched where they are — right alongside eight other teams still undefeated.
What nobody has bothered to mention is just how impressive the defense has looked. Forget the stats — which we’ll get to in a moment — this team’s defense has had guys flying around the field hitting people, and hitting people hard.

In fact, the group has looked downright talented. And talent is something I’ve pointed out has been lacking on this roster since Terry Donahue got his hands on it. Dennis Erickson and Mike Nolan enjoyed few afternoons coaching in a fair fight.

Remember when the Niners were signing guys off the street, guys out of the league, only to run that player out on the field a couple of weeks later? When a player can go from serving Starbucks to starting safety in less than a month it says a team lacks talent.

Not this bunch.

Seven of the 49ers’ starting 11 defensive players have been added to the roster since the end of the 2006 season, with two others — Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson — arriving in 2006. Only Isaac Sopoaga and Shawntae Spencer have been on the roster longer.

Scot McCloughan and his scouting staff deserve some credit.

The Niners have been fighting uphill for so long it’s a natural reaction to point out the reasons this 2-0 start might just be a mirage.
What hasn’t been a mirage has been the way the Niners have snuffed out their first two opponents. They held Kurt Warner and the Cardinals to 16 points, then held the Seahawks to 10.

Arizona scored 31 points in their other game, while the Seahawks put up 28 when not facing the Niners. Both teams won their games not played against the Niners.

Only three teams have allowed fewer points, only two have allowed fewer rushing yards, and this afternoon’s game against Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome serves as this unit’s most difficult test so far.

With 14 other tests to pass — depth is a necessity on a good team — there are plenty of questions still to be answered.

One answer this 2-0 record has already provided is a big one. We know there’s a fair amount of talent in that 49ers’ locker room, something that’s even more of a positive for the 49ers than two good weeks at the start of a season.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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