Isaiah Oliver announces presence in 49ers’ win over Rams: ‘He was a stud today’

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Five-step drop, completion. Three-step drop, completion. Five-step drop, completion.

Matthew Stafford was like a machine in the first half on Sunday, completing 14-of-18 passes for 143 yards and orchestrating long, scoring drives on all three Los Angeles Rams’ possessions.

In the second half of the San Francisco 49ers’ 30-23 win, he looked decidedly human thanks in large part to a pair of newcomers to the 49ers defense, coordinator Steve Wilks and nickel cornerback Isaiah Oliver.


McCaffrey, Samuel keep 49ers undefeated in win vs. Rams

Wilks, who spent the offseason installing a variety of blitzes, might have dialed every one of them after halftime, including run blitzes. It wasn’t as if tailback Kyren Williams and the Rams rushing attack gouged Wilks’ defense in the opening half. But the gains were steady — Williams averaged 4.2 yards a carry — and were part of the Rams’ effort to bleed San Francisco’s defense to death the way it did to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1.

“I feel like in the first half that run game kept them ahead of the sticks a lot,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “They were taking what we were giving them.”

Wilks also put more pressure on Stafford, both with tighter coverages meant to give the 49ers pass rushers extra fractions of seconds to disrupt the quarterback, and with more pass-rush blitzes.

“Everything (Stafford) sees pre-snap — he’s a really smart guy, so he’s able to decipher it,” Oliver said. “So we were trying to mix it up on him, play him a little bit different.”

Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Talanoa Hufanga and even Charvarius Ward went after Stafford at various points in the second half. They didn’t always hit home. In fact, the 35-year-old Stafford juked Ward on his blitz and picked up positive yards.

But some blitzes — especially Warner’s third-down sack at the end of the third quarter — were effective, and the more aggressive approach eventually knocked Stafford out of the impressive rhythm he had carried with him from the Seahawks game.

“It was really getting more pressure — getting tighter on the receivers, getting tighter on the runs,” Oliver said. “That was really the biggest halftime adjustment we made. Just getting down and really challenging the receivers. It was about making Stafford make tighter throws, getting him to hold the ball just an extra second to get a D-linemen in there.”

Oliver began the season as the team’s most embattled defender. The 49ers signed him to a two-year, $6.75 million contract in March to replace Jimmie Ward as their top nickel cornerback. But after the first preseason game, Kyle Shanahan surprised everyone when he said Oliver wasn’t necessarily the starter at the position and that the 49ers would experiment with different configurations as the regular season approached.

And he hasn’t been in the starter role over the first two games. As was the case last week in Pittsburgh, the 49ers began Sunday’s game with Deommodore Lenoir at nickel cornerback and Oliver watching from the sideline.

But when Ambry Thomas hurt his knee in the first quarter, Lenoir was needed at outside cornerback and Oliver played every nickel snap from that point forth.

He had two of the three biggest defensive plays of the contest, the first coming midway through the third quarter when he snagged a pass that ricocheted off of Williams’ hands. The Rams were running high-low concepts against the 49ers throughout the game with Stafford, at least early on, invariably whipping passes to the right spot. This time the low target, Williams, made a mistake and Oliver made him pay with an interception the 49ers converted into a 57-yard Jake Moody field goal.

In the fourth quarter, it was Lenoir’s turn for a game-changing play. After the Rams forced San Francisco’s only three-and-out possession of the game, they took possession with 5:29 to go trailing 27-20. But with defensive tackle Javon Hargrave advancing on him from the interior, Stafford’s pass in the middle of the field was undercut by Lenoir, who returned the interception to the Los Angeles’ 15-yard line, setting up another Moody field goal.

Stafford, on fire to start the game, ended it looking like San Francisco’s Week 1 opponent, Kenny Pickett, or at least like the version the 49ers usually get when they face him. He’s thrown eight interceptions in six meetings against the 49ers since he joined the Rams before the 2021 season.

The final blow, fittingly, also was delivered by Oliver.

He flew in from his nickel spot on a fourth-and-1 attempt by the Rams, tripping up Williams in the backfield and allowing the 49ers to take over on downs.

“He didn’t hesitate,” Shanahan said. “He made a big-time tackle.”

After the game, Oliver was asked why his first offseason with the 49ers was so bumpy.

“It’s tough to say, honestly,’ he said. “I’ve been thinking about that myself. I feel like it was kind of a combination of things, a little bit of adjusting to the new scheme. But it’s really just the style of play that’s been the biggest adjustment for me. And so I’ve had to find my groove and really learn how to play 49ers football on defense. Because it’s special in that way. It’s really not like any other team in the NFL.”

The aggressive way he played the fourth-down attempt suggests he’s finally found that groove. And his big outing, coupled with Thomas’ knee issue, likely means that the 49ers finally have found their top nickel cornerback.

“He had a huge game today,” Warner said. “I think this was great for him and his confidence. Isaiah’s a great player. We signed him for a reason. He’s gotten better and better as time’s gone on. I’m really happy for him and the performance he had.”

Said Shanahan: “I thought he was a stud today. I know he made some big plays.”

(Photo: Harry How / Getty Images)

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