The SF 49ers defense was torched by the Dolphins in Week 5, and Brian Allen caught heat. But it was Robert Saleh who put Allen in position to fail.
SF 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh likely cost reserve cornerback Brian Allen his NFL career. And if the 26-year-old backup manages to hang around the league a little while longer, it certainly won’t be in a prominent role.
Allen was the butt of many a joke and criticism from fans after the Niners suffered an embarrassing 43-17 loss to the visiting Miami Dolphins in Week 5, a game in which Saleh and head coach Kyle Shanahan were outclassed on all three phases. If you’re unsure about what fans said about Allen, all you need to do is head over to his Instagram.
Yet San Francisco was beat up all over the field. Particularly on defense, where Allen surrendered five catches on six targets for 124 yards, a touchdown allowed and being flagged for two defensive pass-interference calls, per Pro Football Focus, before he was mercifully benched at halftime in favor of fellow corner Ahkello Witherspoon.
So why was Allen, who was just called up from the practice squad and hadn’t seen regular-season action since 2018, starting in the first place?
On the surface, it was due to injuries. Witherspoon was banged up with a hamstring injury, yet healthy enough to go in relief, apparently. No. 1 cornerback Richard Sherman is still out with a calf injury, and Emmanuel Moseley is still in the concussion protocol.
Still, that doesn’t explain everything.
Even if San Francisco was down to its final two boundary corners, Saleh had plenty of other options. Why not insert reserve defensive back Tarvarius Moore, whose rookie season saw him featured at corner? Or why didn’t Saleh bump free safety Jimmie Ward, who has played plenty of cornerback in his career, down into a boundary role while putting Moore atop the defense. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt could have been moved to free safety, while Marcell Harris could have filled in closer to the box.
Based on the end results of the first half, any of those options would have been a better choice against Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who picked on Allen early and often throughout the first half.
But it gets even worse.
Robert Saleh, SF 49ers left Brian Allen in a winless situation.
All one has to do is go back and watch the film to see why Allen was put into a situation where he’d never thrive.
Fortunately, KNBR 680 put this together in a mashup with former SF 49ers safety and current NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Donte Whitner, who was overly critical of Saleh’s decision to start Allen:
“How could you possibly expect this man to match up with a guy as talented as [Dolphins wide receiver] DeVante Parker in the same Cover 3 and Cover 1 scheme?,” Whitner questioned during the interview. “That’s the reason you lost this game in the fashion that they did.”
What’s even more frustrating is the sheer number of one-on-one assignments Allen was given against Parker, who leads Miami with 329 rush yards.
Making things worse, that was Allen’s first-ever NFL start. And he had never played a defensive snap during his previous two years with the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2017 and 2018, featured only on special teams.
In these kinds of situations, Saleh could have at least done Allen some favors by providing him with over-the-top help, perhaps sliding Ward over to ensure receivers like Parker didn’t get uncovered too far down the field.
Saleh made a huge mistake there, too, and the Dolphins wisely took advantage of it.
Granted, the Niners are trying to navigate their way through all their injuries, particularly within the secondary. Sherman and Moseley are hopeful to return soon.
For Allen, though, a game like that could be of the career-ending variety, and he could easily look at Saleh as the prime reason why his NFL dream flames out.