When the 49ers’ defense was almost unrecognizable in the first half of their clash with the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, cornerback Isaiah Oliver provided a much-needed boost to rejuvenate the typically dominant unit in the third quarter.
His dominant showing earned him the team’s defensive player of the week title, 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. 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.”
The two NFC West rivals entered the locker room at halftime tied at 17 apiece.
Los Angeles began the third quarter with the ball and its efforts to move the chains and re-gain the lead came up short thanks to Oliver’s tackle of Williams.
In the Rams’ next drive, Oliver had a one-handed pick off quarterback Matthew Stafford that unquestionably flipped the switch for the 49ers and sparked a momentum that ultimately helped them secure their second straight victory to open the 2023 season.
“I thought he was a stud today,” 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.”
Lynch believes the showing will help with not only the confidence Oliver has in himself, but the confidence the team has in him.
“I think when a player, even a veteran player, has those moments, all of a sudden your confidence goes ‘boom,’ ” Lynch said. “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.”
With the loss of Jimmie Ward this summer, the 49ers signed Oliver to a two-year, $6.75 million contract in free agency.
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. 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 said. “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 going as the 49ers prepare for “Thursday Night Football” against the New York Giants in their home opener at Levi’s Stadium.