Remember when the 49ers had too much inventory at linebacker earlier this offseason?
Enter Week 8, and the Niners are forced to start Brock Coyle at MIKE and Ray-Ray Armstrong/Eric Reid at WILL — quite the far cry from Reuben Foster and NaVorro Bowman.
Bowman, of course, is no longer with San Francisco. Whether or not that was a smart move for the long run is anyone’s guess, but it’s pretty clear the Niners defense misses his presence right now.
And considering Foster has seen less than two games’ action this season, this position is hurting.
San Francisco 49ers
What the 49ers Are Doing Well
San Francisco has done a fairly decent job defending against the run this season — ranked 15th with an average of 3.9 yards per carry.
A good deal of this falls upon the defensive line, but the Niners linebacker corps has also played a role in limiting opponents’ ground gains. Armstrong has been a key factor here, posting a team-high 72.9 Pro Football Focus run-stopping grade for this position and remaining serviceable enough to see 426 defensive snaps.
Maybe it was a good idea the Niners brought him back this season after all.
What Needs Improvement
Getting Foster on the field has been a problem. Granted, one can’t exactly fault a player for injuries, but his health has been a major defensive factor almost all season.
The 49ers have missed Foster’s presence, and letting Bowman go ensured this group is going to be the rookie’s responsibility for quite some time.
One of the reasons Bowman is no longer in the picture was because of the veteran’s issues in pass coverage. Foster, we’d like to think, has much more range at this point in his career. Unfortunately, 49ers linebackers have had issues covering tight ends and running backs for the majority of the season.
Injuries are largely to blame, but this is a key issue.