No. 2: Replace the defensive coordinator
It cannot be denied that the 49ers defense has improved over Weeks 14 and 15. Even with this small trend in the right direction, Kyle Shanahan needs to make a change at defensive coordinator. Underperforming draft picks, injuries, and the release of what was to be a young defensive cornerstone in linebacker Reuben Foster have played a role, of course. Where defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has come up short are the areas that he has the most control over.
San Francisco 49ers
Virtually every game this year, the 49ers have given up a big play in the first half. In many occasions, the offender has been left completely unguarded. An equal number of times, Saleh has taken the podium and blamed the errors on miscommunication. If this happens once or twice, it’s understandable, particularly with such young players. The problem is we approach Week 16 and it is still happening.
By now, Saleh should have implemented a fix for the communication problems or benched the players that haven’t conformed.
Almost every young defender on the 49ers has regressed. This was the year defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, to name a few, were to make big leaps in performance. Thomas has played better in the last two games, but overall, 2018 has been a disappointing season for him. He has only one sack and three tackles for loss. Witherspoon has had a poor season, allowing a passer rating of 107.6 to opposing quarterbacks when targeted.
Finally, the 49ers have only five takeaways through 14 games. A total turnover differential of minus-22. This is a guaranteed recipe for failure.
While there is some luck involved in taking the ball away, having only five at this point in the seasons says this defense isn’t coached up to create turnovers. It’s not a coincidence that when veteran defensive coordinators like Wade Phillips of the Los Angeles Rams and Vic Fangio of the Chicago Bears change teams, their defenses remain among the league leaders in takeaways.
Shanahan needs to replace Saleh with a veteran coordinator if he plans to see this team return to glory.