In fairness to San Francisco, the defense was awfully shorthanded for this contest, and it showed.
The 49ers were without two cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams, who were both out with injuries. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt was absent again with a ribs injury. EDGE Dee Ford is still out with a hamstring issue, and the Niners were forced to place nose tackle D.J. Jones on injured reserve earlier this week.
Attrition is starting to show for the Niners, however, as the defense didn’t have enough answers for quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense.
Yes, San Francisco managed two sacks on Ryan — one from depth defensive tackle Sheldon Day and the other from EDGE Nick Bosa. But a relatively non-mobile Ryan was able to evade a lot of the side pressure, either stepping up to throw in the pocket or taking off on multiple scrambles for big gains. In many ways, the lack of pressure emulated what the 49ers were experiencing in their pass-rush department a year ago.
On a positive, though, the Niners largely shut down anything the Falcons were trying to do in the ground game.
Linebacker Fred Warner nearly had himself what could have been a crucial interception, only to have defensive back D.J. Reed bump into him and jar the would-be turnover loose for a mere broken-up pass.
Still, Warner finished with a team-high nine tackles, that pass broken up and a tackle for a loss. And like the defensive line, the 49ers linebackers deserve some credit for holding Atlanta to under 100 yards rushing, with 27 of the Falcons’ 89 rush yards coming from Ryan’s scrambles.
Grading on a curve could be fair here, considering the 49ers were down three of their starters in the defensive backfield.
But there aren’t curves in football, and the Niners fill-ins had their share of problems over the course of the game. While many stemmed from the general lack of pressure up front, there were still issues within the secondary. Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley was almost entirely overmatched by the biggest game changer of the day, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. There was Reed’s gaffe, too.
Although one could get a bit more upset with the play calling, as far as Jones’ impact was concerned.