49ers lack of turnovers is silently killing team’s chances in 2021

Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The lack of takeaways being generated by the 49ers this season is silently killing their playoff chances, as recent history has shown us.

The conversation around the San Francisco 49ers for the first four weeks of the 2021 NFL season mainly revolved around quarterback play.

The media and fans alike were either defending quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo‘s play or clamoring for rookie Trey Lance to get into the mix. Every now and then, the defense would get sprinkled into the conversation, case in point, the Week 3 game against the Green Bay Packers.

Yes, the Niners started slow, but they took the lead with 37 seconds left with a drive from Garoppolo. Then, the defense allowed quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense to get into field-goal range for the game-winner.

Somehow, though, the conversation always shifted back to the Garoppolo and Lance schism.

The one thing that hasn’t been brought up enough, however, is the turnover differential. The 49ers currently have one defensive takeaway through four games, and with that, they are minus-five in turnover differential.

That puts them in the bottom three in the league in that statistic.

From a historical perspective from recent times, in 2019, the bottom three teams in the league in turnover differential were the Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers all of whom finished with sub-.500 records and missed the playoffs. In 2020, the Niners were joined by the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos as the three worst teams as far as a turnover differential.

Unsurprisingly none of them made the playoffs.

Even the 2020 49ers, who finished at the bottom of the NFC West with a measly 6-10 record, had five takeaways through their first four games.

Why can’t 49ers generate turnovers in 2021?

Defensive injuries have derailed a unit that, at least during the preseason, was thought to be one of the league’s most talented. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who had the sole interception/pick-six of the season, is out with a groin injury that could keep him out until the second half of the year.

The team also has a revolving door of cornerbacks due to injuries, with a seemingly different lineup at the position every gameday. Additionally, the team has a rookie defensive coordinator in DeMeco Ryans after Robert Saleh left to take a head coaching position with the New York Jets.

So, no doubt there will be some hiccups as Ryans adjusts to leading the defense.

The question here is how does the defensive force more turnovers. The defensive line seems to be getting pressure. Defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have a combined seven sacks on the season. The defensive line has forced fumbles, but none of them have been recovered. They have also forced errant throws from opposing quarterbacks, but other than Greenlaw’s pick-six, none have been snagged by any San Francisco defensive backs.

49ers have yet another tough turnover challenge vs. Cardinals

A good amount of soul searching will need to be done this week to examine how the defense can capitalize on bad plays from opposing offenses. One takeaway through four games just doesn’t cut it.

Especially as the 49ers will be playing a tough Arizona Cardinals team on Sunday, who is currently 4-0, atop the NFC West and the final undefeated squad in the league.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is currently a front runner for MVP and top three in the league in passing yards. Playing a battle of field position will not work against him, and if the Niners stand any chance of righting the ship, they need a big statement win against him.

And if they want to slow Murray down, they will have to put the pressure on him and force turnovers.

No matter who plays quarterback, Garoppolo or Lance, the defense needs (you guessed it) turnovers.

Next. 49ers roster: Grading each position after first 4 weeks of 2021. dark