No. 1: How Effective Will the 49ers Run Defense Be?
Well, if it’s only slightly better than last year, that’s a huge improvement.
Take a look at these run defense stats from 2016 (hint: they’re not good):
|Lg Rank Defense||32||32||29||32||32||32||32|
Until proven otherwise, the Niners run defense remains the critical weakness the team has to address this upcoming season.
Fortunately, the additions of players like nose tackle Earl Mitchell and defensive end Solomon Thomas should help. Linebackers NaVorro Bowman, fully healthy (we hope), and Reuben Foster should cut down on gains extending into the second level.
Still, it’s not hard to understand why this is such a concern. Combining the personnel with injury worries — the 49ers were awfully thin last year — it’s easy to see why teams simply had to run the ball right down San Francisco’s throat.
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The change to a 4-3, with as many as 11 defenders in the box, should help cut down on open lanes and wide gaps just beyond the line of scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme is nothing like the read-and-react and multiple-stunt approaches from a year ago, now allowing defenders to simply hold their assignments and gaps.
This should would well and cut down on the big gains the Niners were forced to endure in 2016.
But if it doesn’t, the 49ers may have to go back to the drawing board once again.