Goldson got secondary's 1st pick of '12 vs. Lions
Like the rest of the team in general and the defense in particular, the 49ers’ secondary is off to a strong start as San Francisco takes a 2-0 record into Sunday’s visit to Minnesota. But the play on the back end of the defense has been particularly impressive considering the passing prowess of the team’s first two opponents.
Dashon Goldson slips on his blue-collar shirt that every San Francisco 49ers player is issued before talking on camera. He refuses to recognize any competition among his secondary teammates for interceptions or hard hits, too, deflecting everything back to the unit and what it has accomplished as a whole.
While Goldson might be the most outstanding piece so far this season, the sum of all the parts has sure matched up well again.
San Francisco's stout secondary already has limited NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and 5,000-yard passer Matthew Stafford along with top receivers Greg Jennings and Calvin Johnson in wins over Green Bay and Detroit. With second-year quarterback Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings (1-1) up this Sunday, Goldson and the rest of the 49ers secondary is looking to build on the success.
''It's not really a competition thing,'' Goldson said earlier this week. ''It's more guys want to get it done. It's being in position and putting themselves in position and seeing what they can pick up from the film in order to get their hands on the ball. It's not really guys competing with one another, it's seeing if stuff can break down and competing that way. Everybody is playing within the scheme, and they know it will come their way.''
Since Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio took over last year, the ball has come San Francisco's way often.
The 49ers tied the Packers in takeaways (38) and finished second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers (14.2) in points allowed per game (14.3) en route to the NFC championship game loss to the New York Giants last season. Goldson and linebacker NaVorro Bowman each have one interception so far this year, pacing a defense that has quickly become one of the NFL's best.
San Francisco's linebacker legion and defensive line deservedly get most of the credit, stopping the run so well that opponents are often forced to throw early and often. So it can be easy to overlook the secondary's success, particularly with the formations the 49ers have implemented more this season.
''Like I tell the players, corners have to answer the bell on the deep ball each and every game,'' Fangio said. ''They go to the ground, everybody just thinks it's an incomplete pass. ... It's the corner's job to do that.''
The safeties have been strong on the back end, too.
Goldson, who wanted a long-term contract last offseason and instead had the franchise tag placed on him and settled for the one-year, $6.2 million tender, has almost acted as a third linebacker when San Francisco switches to its nickel coverage. The formation was run often against Green Bay, even taking All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis off the field at times to add an extra defensive back.
Playing some 10-15 yards off the line of scrimmage and moving up to make tackles is something Goldson is just as proud of as creating turnovers.
''We still have to be sound on the run game with that extra player and stop the pass,'' Goldson said. ''It's a compliment when we're able to bring another DB on the football field and get it done.''
The passing game is still where San Francisco has made its mark most.
The 49ers held Johnson out of the end zone for the second consecutive season in last week's 27-19 win over Detroit. While Megatron had eight catches for 94 yards, there were no big plays, and most of his yards came well after the game had become a rout in the fourth quarter.
''You want to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage,'' said cornerback Tarell Brown, who split the majority of the time with Carlos Rogers covering Johnson again. ''My biggest thing is, when a ball is in the air, we're both going to go for the ball. He might have the height advantage, but if I get off the ground (quick) I can compete.''
The Vikings present a different kind of challenge.
Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart make up one of the league's top running back tandems. And with Ponder only in his second season, it's likely Minnesota will try to run the ball early with greater success than its NFC North rivals the past two weeks.
The Lions, even with a strong passing game, ran the ball 26 times against San Francisco. After being held to only 82 yards rushing, though, it made life a lot easier on the secondary – which also played a role in that success – to know what was coming next.
''I don't think any team is going to come in here and just fold and just give us one dimension right off the top,'' Goldson said. ''We have to force them to be one dimensional.''