Nick Bosa says San Francisco 49ers defense has the personnel to be ‘best in the league’

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Much like he wouldn’t if he had a clear path to an opposing quarterback, Nick Bosa didn’t hesitate Monday night when asked what the ceiling can be for this Niners defense.

“I think it’s the best in the league,” said Bosa. “That’s our mindset every year, and this year we have the staff for it. Not that we haven’t done that in the past, but all three levels are elite players.”

Given what the Niners’ defense did to NFC West rivals Los Angeles Rams in Monday night’s 24-9 win — in addition to what they accomplished in the first four weeks of the season — Bosa’s conviction is backed by ample evidence supported.

The Niners have won seven straight regular-season games against the Rams, though they lost the most significant clash between the teams in January’s NFC Championship game. It is their longest winning streak against the Rams since they won 17 consecutive regular-season contests from 1990-98.

Against these Rams, who came out with a battered inside offensive line and have become increasingly dependent on receiver Cooper Kupp, the Niners didn’t quite put up a shutout. But they came close.

The Rams hit the red zone three times but settled for a field goal on each trip, and for the first time in quarterback Matthew Stafford’s 25 starts since arriving in Los Angeles in 2021, the Rams didn’t score an offensive touchdown.

Bosa and his teammates were all over Stafford for most of the game, making 17 pressure points (second-biggest since Stafford became a Ram) and sacking him seven times. Bosa was responsible for two sacks and nine pressings as he leads the league in both categories with six and 23, respectively.

The Rams had just 257 yards of offense and averaged 3.5 yards per play. Even in a game that was within a point for most of the night, the Niners’ offense felt like the defensive line was always in control.

“There was a point honestly, I think it was 14-9, and it’s not like we relaxed on offense — but you have confidence in the guys on defense,” said quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. “These guys, I don’t watch a lot of it, but the couples games I watch are hell for the quarterback. I love having them on my side, hate going against them in practice but it makes us better so it’s a good group over there. You are tough.”

To add the finishing touches to the evening’s performance, the San Francisco defense was finally able to generate some takeaways. Last week, Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner lamented the lack of turnovers (the Niners had a total in their two losses) and said it was the next step for the defense to make the leap from good to great.

Rising sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga delivered one of those at just the right time, picking up a screen pass from Stafford and returning it 52 yards for a 6:27 touchdown to extend San Francisco’s lead.

It was the Niners’ fourth pick in their last six regular-season meetings with the Rams, as they’ve had at least one in each of their last four seasons.

“That was the difference,” Warner said. “It was a close game the whole time, we’d played decent defense and kept them out of the end zone but we knew we had to get the ball to win the game and win the game and we did did.”

Fittingly, defensive end Samson Ebukam finished the game 1:58 to play with the team’s seventh sack, forcing Stafford to fumble as defensive end Kerry Hyder Jr. recovered.

And while Monday’s performance may have been the most complete for the Niners’ defense, it was just the latest in a series of dominant performances. Over the four weeks, San Francisco is first in the NFL in points per game (11.5), yards per game (234.5, tied with Buffalo), sacks per dropback (10%) and yards per game allowed (10%), among others Game (3.81) concerns.

All of this for a group expecting Jimmie Ward to return this week from a hamstring injury and cornerback Jason Verrett to return soon from a knee injury.

“I don’t think they’ve dropped 20 points in a game so far this year,” said tight end George Kittle. “It means as long as we get 21 points per game we will win some football games. It’s just up to us to get points and keep playing football.” Nick Bosa says San Francisco 49ers defense has the personnel to be ‘best in the league’

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