Defensive changes provide 49ers with big lift

After tinkering with their defensive lineup for several weeks, the 49ers finally received some major production after making changes before last week's shutdown of the Minnesota Vikings. Newly-appointed starters Brandon Moore and Keith Lewis brought an aggressiveness to the defense that had been previously lacking, which produced some results that hadn't yet been seen during the Mike Nolan era.

In improving to 3-5 at midseason, the 49ers limited the Vikings to just 238 total yards while recording a defense-driven 9-3 victory. After the Vikings burned nine minutes off the clock during a 16-play, 69-drive that resulted in a short field to culminate their first offensive possession, the 49ers held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

It was the fewest yards allowed by the 49ers in their 24 games under Nolan. It also was the fewest points the 49ers had allowed in a game since 2001 and the their fewest points scored in a victory since a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay in 1978. That was the fewest points the 49ers scored in a win in their 61-history.

"A 9-3 victory?" Lewis exclaimed Wednesday. "C'mon, that's huge. Defensively, especially with the substitutions we have, we didn't know what to expect going into the game. But the 9-3 victory, with all the substitutions that we made, that's huge, especially for our confidence level."

Lewis - San Francisco's hard-hitting special teams captain - had four tackles and continued to play surprisingly well in coverage, which has been considered his weakness. The entire secondary seemed to benefit by his presence as Walt Harris recorded his fourth interception and the 49ers tipped away five Minnesota passes.

The 49ers mixed in different players frequently, and safeties Mark Roman, Mike Adams and Tony Parrish all made key plays along with cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Sammy Davis.

Roman, who started at strong safety, tipped away a last-gasp, fourth-down pass at the goal line on Minnesota's final play from scrimmage, and Parrish had his best game of the season with five tackles, playing the run like he did in his heyday. Adams had five tackles and came up with a key pass defensed deep in San Francisco territory on Minnesota's final drive.

Davis tipped away a pass that resulted in Harris' interception, and Spencer was second on the team with eight tackles and recovered a fumble.

The biggest impact in the revamped defense, however, was made by Moore. Making his third start of the season but his first at inside linebacker. Moore recorded a career-high 15 tackles, including eight solo. He had a hand in two sacks, caused a fumble, made two tackles behind the line of scrimmage and created three quarterback hurries.

Moore has earned a starting job ahead of Jeff Ulbrich, whom he replaced last week. Moore started two games earlier this season at left outside linebacker, and he has been moved around frequently since holding a starting role this summer in the 3-4 scheme the 49ers had hoped to use during the season until they realized it wasn't the system that best fit their current personnel.

"I'm the inside backer now," Moore said. "And I've been there for this week, and I'll be there next week, so I guess I'm starting to settle into a more secured role."

Moore lined up at inside linebacker, alongside Derek Smith - the team's leading tackler - on most early downs. Then, in passing situations, he typically played defensive end to rush the passer.

"He's an aggressive player," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "We like that about him. He did a nice job of tackling. It wasn't 100 percent, but when he missed a tackle, he stirred it up enough for somebody else to get him."

With Moore and Lewis together in the starting lineup for the first time this season, the 49ers stirred it up by playing better as a whole on defense, something that seemed to spread to the entire unit.

"(Lewis) is such a physical guy that he brings that physical attitude to the defense - Brandon as well," said Bryant Young, the team's veteran lineman and defensive leader. "Brandon is an aggressive player. When he sees it, he goes and gets it."

Moore said he was just part of the defensive turnaround displayed by the 49ers.

"I think more than just me, it came down to last week, man, a lot of guys just made a decision and put their foot down," Moore said.

Lewis will continue to start, but he will split time with former starter Adams. The other changes made to the lineup in recent weeks were Ronald Fields taking over for Anthony Adams at defensive tackle, and Roman replacing Parrish at strong safety.

Anthony Adams also had perhaps his best game of the season with four tackles - one of them for a loss - and half a sack against Minnesota, and Fields had two tackles and knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

"Change can be good at times," Young said. "I think you keep guys on their toes. At some point you have to put people on edge."


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