San Francisco 49ers: Tackling issues have been No. 1 problem for the defense

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 23: Sammy Watkins #14 of the Kansas City Chiefs stiff arms Ahkello Witherspoon #23 of the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter of the game at Arrowhead Stadium on September 23rd, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 23: Sammy Watkins #14 of the Kansas City Chiefs stiff arms Ahkello Witherspoon #23 of the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter of the game at Arrowhead Stadium on September 23rd, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images) /
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Through three weeks, no other team has missed more tackles than the San Francisco 49ers. And this has proven to be the defense’s biggest concern in 2018 so far.

Forty-three missed tackles for the San Francisco 49ers over the first three weeks of 2018.

Let that Pro Football Focus number sink in for a second. That’s the most out of all franchises during that stretch, which might also help to explain why the Niners’ tackling efficiency on the year ranks next to last, just above the Kansas City Chiefs, who have four fewer missed tackles so far.

It’s arguably cost the Niners games too. In Week 1, the Minnesota Vikings were able to turn a 3rd-and-15 screen play into a 14-yard gain, and they subsequently converted on a 4th-and-1 try.

There were more issues against the Detroit Lions the following week, and the 49ers missed 17 tackles in their 38-27 loss to the Chiefs in Week 3.

One can only wonder what the outcomes could have been had half of those missed tackles been avoided.

Two of the biggest culprits have been defenders one wouldn’t associate with missing tackles, linebackers Fred Warner and Reuben Foster. Foster, who returned in Week 3 following his two-game suspension to start the year, surprisingly missed six tackles during the game.

That number is the most out of any Niners defender.

And while Warner, the rookie, leads the team with 28 tackles, he’s also tied for the second most missed tackles on the year with five.

“I think the most obvious one is we’ve got to tackle better,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said following Week 3, via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. ”I think you guy can see that statistically. You can see it with your own eyes just watching the game. We have to tackle better in order to improve.”

So, what’s going wrong?

A lot of it boils down to technique, which could certainly put defensive coordinator Robert Saleh under the microscope — a possibility that will grow in attention as long as the woes continue.

At least Saleh thinks he has a fix, however (h/t 49ers Webzone):

"It’s very clear when you turn on the tape that we’re actually lunging and ducking our heads at the point of attack. When you teach tackling, everything that we talk about is you’ve got to run your body through their body. Get a body on a body, step on their toes, wrap up, keep your feet moving, drive for five and get them to the ground. So, when you look at all our missed tackles, it’s more people lunging, head down, grasping and launching at feet trying to make arm tackles, and that’s not what we teach obviously."

Saleh indicated that would be a point of emphasis during practice in advance of San Francisco’s Week 4 road bout with the Los Angeles Chargers, who also deploy one of the NFL’s better offenses with quarterback Philip Rivers at the helm.

“The main thing from what I’ve seen, when we do run and hit, you can’t just hit, you have to wrap up and roll him,” Shanahan continued. “You have to drive him through the ground. Guys in this league are big. Guys are strong. You can hit them very hard and they still stay on their feet.”

Both Foster and Warner may be granted a pass for their miscues in Week 3. Warner is still cutting his teeth at the NFL level, so that adjustment period could take the better part of the season. Foster, meanwhile, may still be feeling the effects of two weeks off without being able to fully practice with the squad during his suspension.

Still, the tackling concerns have been one of many glaring weaknesses the 49ers defense has displayed early in 2018.

And with all the other woes Shanahan’s squad has revealed so far this season, it’s one the Niners can’t afford to let continue beyond last week.

The 49ers and Chargers square off on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 4:25 p.m. ET from Carson, California.

Next. What to expect from C.J. Beathard in Week 4 vs. Chargers. dark

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