Rookies come up big in 'best defensive performance'

Rookies come up big in 'best defensive performance'
October 17, 2011, 12:07 am
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DETROIT -- A pair of 49ers rookies played a huge role Sunday in the team's ability to contain the Detroit Lions' explosive passing attack.The 49ers got huge contributions Sunday from rookie outside linebackerdefensive end Aldon Smith and cornerback Chris Culliver in the team's 25-19 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field."Vic (Fangio) said it best, 'Best defensive performance' he's ever been a part of, and I wholeheartedly agree," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.And the 49ers could not have done it without their rookies.

Smith had two sacks, including a safety, and Culliver performed admirably as the 49ers' No. 3 cornerback. Culliver was on the field for nearly every snap of the game, and was matched against receiver Calvin Johnson for a good portion of the game."We're surrounded by guys who are good teachers," Smith said. "Whether it's the players or the coaches, we're able to pick up on it and learn quickly. Chris is a great football player, and we're both just trying to pick up on as much as we can."Johnson became the first player in NFL history to have nine receiving touchdowns in the first five games of the season. He caught seven passes for 113 yards on Sunday, but the 49ers kept him out of the end zone.Culliver has earned the job as the 49ers' No. 3 cornerback, taking over that role from veteran Shawntae Spencer. Starting cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers played well, too."Somebody else had to beat us," Rogers said. "Calvin wasn't going to beat us. That is what we did. He had his plays here and there, but for the most part, we were going to shut him down.""It was just a great team defensive performance," Harbaugh said. "(The) pass-rush was unrelenting. I thought we did a great job of stopping the run and 81 (Johnson) caught the ball, and he's a heck of a player, but we made plays and hung in there. It was a great defensive performance."Culliver said the 49ers tried to be physical with Johnson and re-route him off the line of scrimmage. Johnson is listed at 6-foot-5, 236 pounds."You have to be physical with him," Culliver said. "All his plays he had on me, he pushed off on me. Refs didn't call it but I ain't complaining."I had tight coverage on him. All he did was try to release outside. And when he went inside, he tried to push me off. He was complaining. And I told him he had to shut up because he's too big for that."Fangio said the 49ers paid particular attention to Johnson. The club devoted two defenders to Johnson with many of their coverages, he said."There were a good bit of the plays where we had two guys -- man or zone concepts -- that were paying attention to him," Fangio said. "He's a great player, one we paid a lot of attention to, and it paid off."After the 49ers took a 22-19 lead with 1:51 remaining, the defense came through with a four-and-out. Again, when the Lions got the ball back, trailing 25-19 with 1:02 left, the 49ers' defense held. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald combined for the 49ers' fifth sack of quarterback Matthew Stafford to snuff out the Lions' last chance before they really ever had a chance.

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