Where better to continue than with the quarterback of the defense, Lofa Tatupu?
The man’s a 3-time Pro Bowler. I’m still fuzzy on how all that went about. My assumption is, if you’re not racking up sacks or turnovers, then 100 tackles is the threshold. So, I guess, he did that from his rookie season in ’05 through ’07. My hunch is, he caught some breaks; maybe injuries by better players got him on the team, maybe there just weren’t that many great linebackers in the NFC those years … I dunno.
Of course, that’s not to say he isn’t vitally important to our success on defense. He’s our leader! He delivers the plays to the rest of the guys, he makes sure everyone’s in position, and he’s in the middle of all the action as it happens. He has to be.
For the longest time now – even in our winning seasons – our defense has been labelled as soft. Fair or unfair, it is what it is. What tipped the scales and made it seem better was the fact that we could run the ball and score in bunches on offense, and the fact that we got a LOT of very timely turnovers. I couldn’t possibly count all the late-game interceptions or fumble recoveries we generated at points that were essentially Make Or Break.
One game in particular – bringing this back around – was I believe against Philly in 2007. Lofa had 3 picks, one in the endzone to pretty much seal the game.
The guy is just a gamer. With perceived softness all around him, Lofa is our rock. He’s a guy other teams will look at and say, “Watch out for him.” He’s the brains and the heart of the defense, and you can see what’s happened when our defense lacks its Lofa. It suffers.
He played only 5 games last year thanks to a torn pec. He played in 15 games in 2008, but he was dogged by injuries all damn year that limited his ability. It’s no huge leap to relate Lofa’s limited action to our turnaround as one of the worst defenses – and teams – in the NFC the last two years.
Our defense, as it stands, most likely won’t be the one determining the success of our team. It’s not a Top 5 or even a Top 10 unit. But, there will be times we’ll have to lean on the ol’ Sea Fence. We’re going to need them to get back to forcing turnovers, giving our potentially sputtering offense a chance to make up for lack of progress. We’re going to have to figure out a way to get pressure on the quarterback, to force him into making poor throws.
And we’re going to have to do the most fundamental thing a defense HAS to do to be successful: we’re going to have to tackle the ball carrier. That’s where Lofa comes in. When the offense has successfully executed a play – be it hand off to the back, a toss to a wide receiver on the line of scrimmage, or a bullet in the middle of the field to a covered tight end – we’ll need Lofa right there, on the ball, ready to make the tackle before they can break that play for a first down or otherwise big yardage. He’s got to be our 100-tackle guy in the middle again. Limit the damage most of the time, and come up with a few game-changers here and there. That’s the job of a Lofa Tatupu.
That and bring along Aaron Curry’s development into an elite threat for opposing quarterbacks.