The 49ers' defense was almost unrecognizable in the first half of Sunday's meeting with the Los Angeles Rams, but nickel back Isaiah Oliver provided a much-needed boost to the typically dominant unit in the third quarter.
His seven-tackle, one-interception showing earned him the team's defensive player of the week honors, and a seal of approval from San Francisco's top executives.
"I remember there was a play and a flat-out to [Rams running back] Kyren Williams, and [Oliver] stopped him," general manager John Lynch told Greg Papa on NBC Sports Bay Area's "49ers Game Plan." "Kyren's a strong player. He stopped him short of the first down [on a third-and-5 play]. And [assistant GM] Adam Peters said to be during the game, 'He just became a Niner.' And I thought that was very appropriate because that was kind of what we've been wanting out of him and he took to it."
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The NFC West rivals entered halftime tied at 17, and the Rams started the third quarter with the ball. Their efforts to move the chains and regain the lead, though, came up short because of Oliver's tackle on Williams.
Then, on the Rams' next drive with the score still tied, Oliver made a one-handed pick of a Matthew Stafford pass, which unquestionably flipped the switch for the 49ers, who kicked a field goal on the ensuing drive and eventually won 30-23 at SoFi Stadium.
"I thought he was a stud today," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game (h/t 95.7 The Game). “I got to watch the whole tape to get through all of it, but I know he made some huge plays. … Especially with some of our DBs getting banged up throughout the game. Those guys had to step it up because they were all over the place.”
San Francisco 49ers
Lynch believes Sunday's showing not only will help Oliver gain confidence in himself but also boost the team's confidence in him.
"I think when a player, even a veteran player, has those moments, all of a sudden, your confidence goes 'boom,' " Lynch told Papa. "And your teammates' confidence in you. So, I thought that was a big game. He was the player of the week from our defensive standpoint for us. I'm really proud because he's a quality individual and a really good player who's going to help us."
The 49ers lost longtime starter Jimmie Ward to the Houston Texans in free agency but signed Oliver to a two-year, $6.75 million contract after he started 38 of 62 games over five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Oliver struggled in the preseason and lost his spot for a while, but Lynch credits the 26-year-old's ability to keep his head up and continue grinding, as his hard work paid off at the perfect time for San Francisco.
"Isaiah came here, struggled a little bit learning the way we play, our style of play, the concepts, and the speed with which we play," Lynch told Papa. "We go attack people. You pride yourself on running, getting 11 hats to the ball, and that allows you to play with a little reckless abandon. If you miss and you just miss your leverage side, here comes Dre Greenlaw, here comes [Fred] Warner, here comes the stack monsters, the D-line.
"And I think Isaiah, I was proud of him, because he battled through when he kind of lost his spot for a little while, never had a down day. Just kept his head up, kept getting better, kept competing, and you could see it."
Oliver, now officially dubbed "a Niner," hopes to keep the momentum in the 49ers' "Thursday Night Football" home opener against the New York Giants.