Scouting the Niner defense

The Chargers should be scared of the 49ers defense. Three 49er defensive players have now won the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award this season.

Jamie Winborn in week 1, Ronnie Heard in week 8 and Julian Peterson last week. This defense will face a Chargers offensive line that has lost its two starting tackles.

Peterson was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts in stopping Tony Gonzalez in the 49ers, 17-13, win over the Chiefs this past Sunday.

Peterson held the NFL's premier tight end to one catch for six yards on the day. The climax to his outstanding play came with the Chiefs driving at the 49ers 37-yard line with 1:12 remaining in the game. Trent Green dropped back on a fourth-and-11 situation and launched a pass for Gonzalez but Peterson was there to reach up with his left hand and swat the ball away.

"It shows right there if you go out there and work hard, people notice it," Peterson said. "It might not be statistically the best game, but if you go out and do your part and contribute, you can win awards, and I guess I'm a prime example of that."

Peterson will not be asked to drop into coverage as much this week against the Chargers. In fact, Peterson said he might see time at defensive end on Sunday at San Diego, a pass-rushing assignment he's more than willing to accept.

"I definitely miss it, but Chike's doing a great job," Peterson said. "I was born and raised to pass rush. It's why they brought me into this league. I never want to lose that skill. Chike's doing great. If the team needs me, I'm there for it." That is Chike Okeafor who has 5 sacks on the season playing from the defensive end position.

The 49ers defense has tabbed itself "The Elite Swarm Group," adopted since their win over the Raiders. "It fits us because we swarm to the ball pretty good," Peterson said. Rookie cornerback Mike Rumph said the nickname sounds too corny, though, and provided an alternative. "The Defense Featuring Julian Peterson," Rumph said. "That's better than the Elite Swarm Group."

Winborn had 16 tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss in the 49ers' 16-13 win over the New York Giants to earn the award in Week 1. Winborn also tipped a pass that was intercepted by Peterson.

Heard earned his honor after recording three interceptions, four tackles and four passes defensed in the win over Arizona. Heard's three interceptions is the most by a 49er since Rod Woodson had three in a 33-7 win over New Orleans on September 14, 1997.

Luckily for the Bolts, Winborn is slow to recover from a torn knee ligament and will miss this week's game.

Not so lucky is the fact that the Niners defense is firing on all cylinders and facing a patchwork Charger offensive line. Tackles Damion McIntosh and Vaughn Parker are out. Sammy Williams gets his first start of the year this week and Ed Ellis will be in the lineup at the opposite tackle position. Ellis was flagged for four penalties last week. They will have to face Andre Carter the Niners leader in sacks with 8 and the duo will be called upon to seal the end for the running of LaDainian Tomlinson.

The Niners have faced three of the top four back in the league this year (Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk and Deuce McAllister) and will complete the fearsome foursome this week when they face Tomlinson.

"There are some great backs in the league, and we seem to be facing them every week," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said.

In a loss to the Saints, they allowed McAllister to run for 139 yards on 21 carries, but in wins over the Chiefs and Rams, they limited Holmes to 51 yards on 11 carries and Faulk to 73 yards on 18 carries.

"Our front seven is doing a nice job of stopping the run," Mariucci said. "Some times we include an eighth guy with a safety in the box, and we're tackling well. We're getting good run support from our corners, which you don't always count on."

"They're never on the ground," Tomlinson said. "They're able to get off blocks really good and get to the football. And they gang tackle. They're a lot like Denver."

With the Niners knowing that if they can limit the star running backs in the league when they face them, they will have their best chance at winning the game. This Sunday in San Diego, expect to see a lot of 8-man fronts waiting to stop Tomlinson in his tracks. With an ailing offensive line, the job to get Tomlinson his yards will be that much tougher.

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