Warner is considered by many to be the best inside linebacker in football. You name it, and he does it for this 49ers’ defense. Warner is PFF’s highest-graded linebacker this season, totaling 15 pressures, 128 total tackles, and limiting pass-catchers to under 10 yards per reception.
Warner’s counterpart, Greenlaw, is an impact player himself, recording 120 tackles, holding pass-catchers to just 8.3 yards per catch, along with recording seven pressures and two sacks. Greenlaw did not play in Week 18 with an Achilles injury but was back at practice on Wednesday.
“Oh yeah, huge,” said Jordan Love of Warner’s impact. “I think he’s the leader of the defense and obviously he’s one of the best linebackers in the NFL. So, he does a lot for that defense, but I think all around they’ve got some pretty good players over there.”
As a collective defensive unit, the 49ers are holding opposing quarterbacks to just 5.9 yards per pass attempt, the fifth-lowest rate during the regular season. The 49ers’ defense is allowing just over 4.0 yards per carry in the run game and ranks 10th in ESPN’s run-stop win rate metric.
Both Warner and Greenlaw have had a significant hand in those results.
“You see him all over the tape,” added Love. “He’s flying around, making plays left and right. So he’s a big-time player that you’ve got to know where he’s at and find ways to take advantage of what they do, but he’s a great player.”
When facing a linebacker duo of this caliber, offenses have to account for them on every single play, regardless of whether it is a run or a pass.
If unaccounted for in the run game, it will make getting to the second level for Aaron Jones and Co. all the more difficult with Warner and Greenlaw there to fill gaps at the line of scrimmage—not to mention their abilities to flow sideline-to-sideline to contain outside rushing attempts.
In the passing game, their presence and sure tackling abilities muddy things up over the middle of the field, creating tight passing lanes and making it more difficult to pick up yards after the catch.
“We just gotta be sound and be on our fundamentals,” said Christian Watson at his locker on Wednesday. “Take what we can take and get some YAC when we can and be smart with the football, as long as we’re holding onto it and chopping away at it, we’ll be all right.”
But along with what they bring to the table once the ball is snapped, what they do beforehand is equally important, making checks based on the offense’s alignment and pre-snap movement, along with making sure everyone knows what their defensive responsibilities are.
With all of that said, the Packers’ offense can present its own challenges for the 49ers’ linebackers. Love is playing at an elite level, which on its own, is going to stress opposing defenses. The Packers offensive line is playing its best football, along with Aaron Jones being Aaron Jones.
And while the Packers may not have a true No. 1 target in the passing game, what they do have are five to seven legitimate targets on any given play if you include the tight ends. That ability to spread the ball around regardless of the situation forces the defense to defend the entire field.
When you pair top-notch quarterback play with running and passing games that are able to generate explosive plays, you get an offense that can make a lot of noise—as we saw in Dallas. However, led by Warner, this Niners defense is a very different beast.
“I’ll just speak to Jordan Love, and the way that he’s playing right now is really great,” Warner told reporters.
“The things that you see showing up, obviously learned under Aaron (Rodgers), some of the mannerisms and the way that he’s operating under center and in the gun, he’s doing a great job. He’s making the throws, making smart decisions, which is what you want the most from that position from a young player and so obviously it’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”