DeMeco Ryans has put together the NFL’s best defense with this year’s San Francisco 49ers. The unit features talent at all three levels, starting with Nick Bosa — one of the favorites for Defensive Player of the Year Honors — up front. Fred Warner patrols the second level, one of the league’s best linebackers, and emerging star Talanoa Hufanga handles things at the back of the secondary from his safety spot.
But when the 49ers needed their first big defensive play of the 2023 NFL Playoffs, it was another player up front, Charles Omenihu, who came through in the clutch, and turned the course of the Wild Card game between the 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.
Thanks in part to a critical mistake from safety Jimmie Ward, whose late hit on Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith gifted the Seahawks a go-ahead field goal before halftime, the favored 49ers actually trailed at the break. But their offense, led by rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, retook the lead on their opening possession of the second half. Purdy and the 49ers offense went right down the field, with the rookie QB capping off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
However, it looked like Smith and company were going to answer that touchdown with one of their own on their very next possession. Seattle drove down into red zone, but thanks to a false start penalty they faced a 3rd and 14 at the 49ers’ 19-yard line.
That’s when the vaunted San Francisco defense — and Omenihu — delivered:
Ryans puts three pass rushers into the game up front, with Bosa, Samson Ebukam, and Omenihu. Arik Armstead is the fourth member of their defensive front. Bosa, Armstead and Omenihu all align on the left side of the offense, with Omenihu aligned on the left shoulder of the center.
At the snap, Ebukam and Armstead twist, with Ebukam slicing inside while Omenihu loops to the outside, going second on the twist. The four create multiple points of pressure on Smith in the pocket with the first coming from Bosa off the edge. He gets into the backfield, forcing Smith to climb.
Right into the path of Omenihu, who punches the football out of Smith’s hands. Bosa makes the recovery, and the scoring threat is over.
San Francisco scored on their next possession, and with the two-point conversion built a 14-point lead, taking control of the game.
Omenihu added a second sack of Smith in the fourth quarter, giving him two on the game.
For the first multi-sack game of his NFL career.
Much is made of the 49ers, the weapons they have on offense, and the way that Purdy is playing despite his draft status. But this 49ers defense is just as talented, and with players like Omenihu making huge contributions, it could be tough for other offenses in the NFC to find consistent success against this unit.