49ers first quarter of season defensive rundown

Are the 49ers or Texans under more pressure to win on Sunday?

49ers first quarter of season defensive rundown
October 2, 2013, 6:30 am
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All-Pro NaVorro Bowman has 25 tackles, two sacks, four passes defended and two forced fumbles through four games. (AP)

Editor's note: With four games played, the 49ers have reached the one-quarter point of the regular season. Earlier, we took a player-by-player look at the offense. Now, we turn our attention to the defense:

Defensive line
91-Ray McDonald: Among the 49ers’ formidable front seven, he often does not get the credit he deserves. He gets good pressure without accumulating many sacks, and he ranks second on the 49ers with 35 tackles, according to the coaches’ statistics.
90-Glenn Dorsey: How’s this? He is the highest-rated 49ers defensive player, according to Pro Football Focus. He does not play on passing downs, and he has been outstanding against the run with 30 tackles and keeping linemen from getting to the second level.
94-Justin Smith: He is tied with McDonald for the team-high with 14 quarterback hits in four games, according to the coaches’ stats. He might not be as dominant as he was a year ago at this time, but he is still pretty darn good.
83-Demarcus Dobbs: The 49ers’ top backup on the D-line has been steady in a backup role. However, he’s still kicking himself for his inability to pick up a loose fumble and score against the St. Louis Rams.
63-Tony Jerod-Eddie: He earned this spot on the roster over Will Tukuafu, who was on the team the past two seasons. But he’ll have to pick it up in order to stick around when a couple of rookies are cleared to play. He has a fumble recovery.

Outside linebackers
55-Ahmad Brooks: He has played the run very well and ranks second on the team with 2.5 sacks. He’ll get a lot more attention with Aldon Smith out of the lineup for a while.
51-Dan Skuta: He takes over for Aldon Smith in base situations. His first game was a success. He held up his end of the bargain, as the Rams could get nothing going with their run game.
96-Corey Lemonier: He has a couple quarterback hurries against the Rams, which was encouraging. Because the 49ers expect more consistent pressure when he’s not facing an All-Pro caliber left tackle, such as Jake Long.
50-Jermaine Cunningham: He signed with the 49ers on Tuesday after spending his first three seasons with the New England Patriots. He was a second-round draft pick in 2010, and started 11 games as a rookie. He started only three of 21 games in 2011 and ’12. Last season, he had a career-high 2.5 sacks.

[NEWS: 49ers waive Daniels, Marecic; sign Cunningham]

Inside linebackers
53-NaVorro Bowman: All he did with Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith out of the lineup was raise his game to an even higher level. He continues to do whatever defensive coordinator Vic Fangio asks of him, including recording two sacks against the Rams. Is he better than Willis? Flip a coin. (And that’s no knock on Willis.)
52-Patrick Willlis: He missed last week’s game due to a groin strain. The 49ers will be careful about clearing him to return. After all, this is one injury they do not want to linger.
57-Michael Wilhoite: He stepped in and played well enough that Willis was not missed against the Rams. He recorded five tackles, and continues to be one of the team’s top special teams players.
56-Nate Stupar: He earned his spot on the roster over several other players who would get claimed off waivers, including rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper. Stupar was inactive for the first three games. He made a strong contribution on special-teams against the Rams in his debut with two tackles.

Cornerbacks
22-Carlos Rogers: The play from the 49ers’ corners was very good in the first four games. The 49ers rank third in the NFL allowing just 190.5 yards passing per game. Rogers has been solid. He has been targeted 19 times, according to PFF, and has allowed just nine catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.
25-Tarell Brown: Brown been called for five penalties -- some justified, some not -- but has mostly been solid, too. He got off to a rough start against the Rams, but then ended up having a strong game with eight tackles and three passes broken up.
28-Nnamdi Asomugha: He was on the field for 80 snaps in the first three games and had just three balls caught against him for 63 yards, according to PFF. His recovery speed is not what it used to be, but he mostly did a good job with press coverage of discouraging quarterbacks from throwing to his side. He should be available to play against the Houston Texans on Sunday night after missing last week’s game with a knee injury.
26-Tramaine Brock: He stepped in as the No. 3 cornerback and was outstanding against the Rams. He had deep coverage against Brian Quick to bat the ball away, leading to a Donte Whitner interception. He put the pressure on the coaching staff to consider whether he should be considered over Asomugha for the No. 3 job.
20-Perrish Cox: He saw limited playing time as the backup slot man and No. 4 cornerback. Cox began the season as the deep man on kickoffs but was demoted after losing a fumble against the Seahawks.
40-Darryl Morris: Promoted from the practice squad last week, the undrafted rookie made his debut against the Rams and picked up a special teams tackle after Phil Dawson’s fair catch kick.

Safeties
31-Donte Whitner: The veteran has really taken over even more in the leadership department, playing alongside a rookie. His pass coverage was very good with five passes broken up and one interception. He broke up another pass in the end zone against the Rams but was called for unnecessary roughness with a hit to the head of Chris Givens. He was fined $21,000.
35-Eric Reid: The first-round draft pick has exceeded expectations in his first four games after winning the right to replace Dashon Goldson. He has supplied all the best that Goldson has to offer without the downside of the penalties -- or the huge contract. He has a team-leading two interceptions.
43-Craig Dahl: The team’s No. 3 safety played the second half against the Seahawks after Reid left the game with a concussion. He is a core special teams player, and recorded a blocked punt against Seattle.
27-C.J. Spillman: He grades out as the 49ers’ top special teams players, according to coordinator Brad Seely’s rating system. Spillman has three special-teams tackles.
41-Raymond Ventrone: He earned his spot on the team due to his play on special teams, most notably in the role as punter Andy Lee’s personal protector.

Specialists
9-Phil Dawson: He is just 3-for-6 on field-goal attempts with his misses coming from 48, 53 and 71 -– yes, that’s right, 71 –- yards. (He missed badly on a rare fair-catch kick opportunity.) The 49ers will need him to connect on some of the long ones and all of the kicks inside 50 yards, too.
4-Andy Lee: He’s the same old Andy Lee. He averaged 48.7 yards, and he’s done a good job of directional punting to allow his coverage unit an opportunity to make tackles. His net average is a robust 42.1, and he’s placed five of his punts inside the 20.
47-Kevin McDermott: The 49ers chose him to handle the long-snapping chores over reliable veteran Brian Jennings. Through four games, McDermott has gone unnoticed -- and that’s the best thing that can be said about a long-snapper.

Reserve/non-football illness
99-Aldon Smith: He took a voluntary leave of absence to enter in-patient treatment for substance abuse. Typically, that lasts for about a month. It’s up in the air when he will return. The 49ers will not put him back on the field until he shows “significant progress,” a source told CSNBayArea.com. The most plausible scenario is that he’s available Nov. 10 against Carolina -- after the team returns from London and has a bye week.
30-Eric Wright: He took care of a personal matter after signing on Aug. 8 and did not join the team until Aug. 27. He must miss the first six weeks. He is expected to begin practicing shortly after becoming eligible to be removed from the NFI list.

[RELATED: Wright might start in 2014]

Reserve/non-football injury
95-Tank Carradine: He continues to rehab the knee injury he sustained in November, and is eligible to begin practicing after Week 6. He is expected to be available at some point this season, though his performance on the practice field will determine the time frame.
71-Quinton Dial: The 49ers have high hopes for Dial after selecting him in the fifth round of the draft. He underwent surgery in January to repair ligament and cartilage damage in his toe. Like Carradine, he should be available to contribute at some point, but there’s no specific timetable. Once players on NFI begin practicing, teams have a 21-day window to made a decision to activate, release or place on season-ending injured reserve.

Injured reserve/designated for return
54-Nick Moody: The rookie special teams player broke his right hand in the season opener against Green Bay. He is eligible to return to action Nov. 10 against Carolina.

Injured reserve
29-Chris Culliver: He is rehabbing his left knee after sustaining a torn ACL on Aug. 1. He is out for the season, and will return in 2014.
93-Ian Williams: He sustained a season-ending broken left ankle Sept. 15 on Seattle guard J.R. Sweezy’s low block from the backside.