3 simple goals for Robert Saleh, 49ers defense in 2020

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /
1 of 4
Robert Saleh, 49ers
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The 49ers defense under Robert Saleh was excellent in 2019, but reaching these three goals in 2020 could make this unit even better.

In 2018, the San Francisco 49ers defense under coordinator Robert Saleh was essentially a laughingstock, boasting a league-low seven forced turnovers, two interceptions and giving up an average of 27.2 points per game, which ranked fifth worst in the league that year.

Not surprisingly, fans were wondering if Saleh was the right coordinator for the job.

But if Saleh was on the proverbial hot seat entering 2019, his defensive unit engineered a turnaround for the ages, putting together a combination of returning veterans with new faces en route to a 13-3 record, the NFC West crown, the No. 1 seed in the conference and an appearance in Super Bowl LIV.

Along the way, Saleh’s defense managed 48 sacks, which ranked fifth best in the league, 27 forced turnovers, which ranked sixth, came in second best with 4,509 total yards allowed and surrendered a league-best 4.7 yards per play.

Seems like those minor tweaks and roster additions the 49ers engineered between the two years paid off.

All this put Saleh in contention for a possible head-coaching gig somewhere else at some point in the future. For now, his primary job will be ensuring San Francisco’s defense maintains the same sort of continuity it had over the vast majority of 2019.

It won’t be easy. The team lost Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner during the offseason, replacing him with a rookie, first-round NFL Draft choice Javon Kinlaw out of South Carolina. On top of that, it’s tough to gauge defensive effectiveness on a year-to-year basis (just ask the Chicago Bears between 2018 and 2019) even though a good chunk of the personnel can be carried over.

Still, Saleh’s defense can be just as good as last year if it looks to achieve these three easy-to-reach goals this season.