On the defensive side of the ball, three 49er defensive players impacted the game the most. Who were the players who performed the best?
The San Francisco 49ers opened the 2022 season against the Chicago Bears on a rainy day in the Windy City. After an NFC championship berth in 2021 and an offseason of uncertainty at the quarterback position, the 49ers were highly favored entering Week One and had high hopes for the new season.
Unfortunately, things simply didn’t go the 49ers’ way. The 49ers took an embarrassing loss against the Chicago Bears in a game marred by head-scratching penalties and brutal momentum-killing turnovers that ultimately did San Francisco in.
However, there were some positives to come out of this game on the defensive side of the ball. These three players displayed why a Week One loss to a bad team doesn’t mean the season is doomed. Improvement week to week is the name of the game.
Let’s dive into who stood out on defense.
49ers Strong Safety, Talanoa Hufanga
In a game full of disappointment, the second-year safety out of the University of Southern California was the best player on the field Sunday. It was truly an unbelievable performance from the 2021 fifth-round pick.
Coming into the season, questions around the speed of Hufanga and his coverage ability were brought up. He showed great improvement in both categories in the first game of the year. In the second quarter, Hufanga recorded his first career interception on a bad decision by Justin Fields.
Defending the run is where Hufanga shines. Timed speed doesn’t always equate to game speed. Hufanga is a cruise missile on the field. Timed at 4.6 seconds on the 40-yard dash, Hufanga looks considerably faster than that. When he sniffs out a run play it leads to some special plays. He plays like a linebacker by the way he hits.
In the first half, he was everywhere.
Overall, Hufanga totaled 11 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one pass breakup, and of course, his first career interception. Not everything was perfect, but Hufanga showed a lot of promise on Sunday.
49ers Cornerback, Charvarius Ward
Charvarius Ward had a really good debut as a Niner. The prize of the 49ers 2022 free agent class, Ward showed why he can be a lockdown corner for the 49ers. Adding Ward to a young up-and-coming secondary has the chance to show immediate dividends. Possibly similar to the impact Emmanuel Sanders had in the wide receiver room in 2019.
The first time Ward was targeted he had a big hit to break up a pass. Later in the game, he played great coverage on a third-down deep shot that fell incomplete to force what appeared to be at the moment, a field goal to end the first half. He also had another nice showing coverage-wise on a deep shot to Darnell Mooney in the fourth quarter.
If you could take anything positive out of today’s game, it’s that. Just like Hufanga, some things could be improved. Ward did have one penalty on the day on a third-down to give the Bears a first down. However, all things considered, Ward looks to be the number one corner the 49ers have been searching for since Richard Sherman.
49ers Defensive Tackle, Javon Kinlaw
Another player who impressed was Javon Kinlaw. The former first-round pick is finally healthy. If he can stay healthy, he’s an absolute difference maker. His massive frame clogs up the running lanes for the opponents. Running up the middle against the 49ers is nearly impossible when he’s in the game.
On the first drive of the game, he made an impact. The Bears attempted a screen pass that allowed Kinlaw to rush up the middle and force Justin Fields to rush his throw that almost became an interception. Later on that drive on a third down, Kinlaw was in with Samson Ebukam for the first sack of the season for the 49ers defense.
The only worry with Kinlaw is health. He had a scary moment early in the game where he stayed on the field for a little bit after what appeared to be a lower leg/ankle injury. Kinlaw spent some time in the medical tent as he was getting his ankle re-taped.
Although Kinlaw didn’t record a statistic in the game, he showed that he has all the potential and talent in the world to be a difference-making defensive tackle.