No. 2: Clamping Down on Opponents’ Run Game
Despite the drop off in sack production down the stretch, the 49ers defense still finished No. 2 in scoring and had the best defense against the pass.
This wasn’t the case against opposing teams’ rushing attacks, however.
By regular season’s end, the Niners allowed an average of 4.5 yards rushing per carry, which ranked 23rd best in the league. A big part of the reason was the defensive shift to a wide-9 alignment, which opened up the interior of the defense, and that was an area many a team tried to exploit when they faced San Francisco.
Like the pass rush, the 49ers could receive a boost when and if linebacker Kwon Alexander returns from what was initially ruled a season-ending pectoral injury. Signs are looking good he’ll be able to do so, which will add to the defense’s playmaking abilities and help reassure depth.
The Niners had only four games in this season when they held opposing rushing attacks to less than 100 yards, and that kind of attack can be the difference between advancing in the postseason or going home.
Merely watching Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry churn out chunk plays in the Wild Card round against the New England Patriots, or thinking about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson or running back Mark Ingram move the ball with ease on the ground, should be reason enough for the 49ers to focus on preventing the run a bit better than they did in the regular season.