Hasselbeck expects battle vs. improved 49ers

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

RENTON, Wash. -- Matt Hasselbeck has faced the 49ers' defense in San Francisco just once over the last three seasons, missing two games to injury. That changes Sunday and Hasselbeck expects to encounter a tougher 49ers defense.

That was a recurring theme during the Seattle quarterback's recently completed interview session after practice. I'll summarize Hasselbeck's thoughts here:

  • The 49ers are better at defensive end because they can rush the passer from both spots. On Justin Smith: "94 does a great job rushing the passer." 49ers coaches said Smith hit Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner nine times and pressured him 13 times, Matt Maiocco tweets.

  • Cornerback Shawntae Spencer has stepped up noticeably. Hasselbeck mentioned Spencer by name more than once and commended the cornerback for bouncing back from knee surgery so well. Hasselbeck also cast Dre' Bly as perfectly suited for the nickel role, calling him one of the best nickel corners in the league.

  • Parys Haralson has developed into an effective pass-rusher.

  • Patrick Willis, who returned a Hasselbeck interception 86 yards for a touchdown at Qwest Field last season, is "one of the great young players" in Hasselbeck's words.

The 49ers were indeed impressive on defense against the Cardinals in Week 1. They basically dropped six into coverage at will against Arizona because their pass rush was so effective. I'm going to rewatch the game Thursday night with an eye on the pass rush.