Coordinator Vic Fangio worked for Dom Capers in Carolina and Houston, and runs a 3-4 zone-blitz scheme similar to Capers’ scheme with the Packers. The 49ers finished No. 2 in scoring defense, No. 3 in total yards, No. 4 in rushing yards allowed per game and No. 3 in average yards allowed per carry.
They have maybe the best front seven in the NFL, and it starts with end Justin Smith (6-4, 285), though it’s unclear how effective he’ll be playing with a partially torn triceps sustained less than a month ago. His backup, Ricky Jean Francois (6-3, 295), doesn’t rush the passer as well but is an excellent run defender. Isaac Sopoago (6-2, 330) is hard to move and plays with a mean streak.
Patrick Willis (6-1, 240) and NaVorro Bowman (6-0, 242) are the best inside linebackers in the league and with their similar sizes and numbers (52 and 53, respectively) sometimes are tough to tell apart when they’re making plays.
The 49ers rank No. 6 in defensive passer rating (78.0), No. 4 in passing yards allowed, No. 3 in average yards allowed per attempt and No. 14 in sacks percentage. Their secondary coach is former Packers defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
Justin Smith (three sacks) is their best inside rusher, not only because he can get to the quarterback but because he does a great job tying up blockers on stunts. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith (6-4, 258) is one of the league’s impact players. He finished second in the league in sacks this year (19˝) and has 33˝ sacks in his first two NFL seasons combined. His bookend, seventh-year pro Ahmad Brooks (6-3, 259), isn’t as explosive but still is an athletic rusher (6˝ sacks) who plays with an edge.
Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers (6-0, 192) and Tarrell Brown (5-10, 193) are better in zone coverage than man-to-man; Brown, 28, keeps improving every year. Second-year pro Chris Culliver (6-0, 199) is on the come as the nickel back, and second-year pro Perrish Cox (6-0, 198) is the dime back.
Safeties Dashon Goodson and Donte Whitner are going to the Pro Bowl. Both are big-time strikers but only OK cover men. Goodson is the better centerfielder of the two; Whitner is at his best filling fast and hitting hard on short throws.