The 49ers have had a slow start to the 2021 season, but this defensive stat suggests that they will be able to turn it around.
The San Francisco 49ers defense ranks as the No. 1 defensive in the NFL in pass yards allowed and No. 2 in total yards surrendered this year over six weeks, five games played plus the Niners’ bye.
With San Francisco having a bye week last week and other teams not having that benefit, the numbers are slightly inflated. Just looking at the first five weeks of the season, the 49ers were No. 5 in passing yards allowed anyway.
Over the past three seasons, teams that finish top three in both of those categories make the playoffs 100 percent of the time. Although the Niners’ 2-3 record doesn’t reflect how adaptable this defense has been given its injuries, this unit is still playing at an elite level.
In Week 5, San Francisco faced an offense that was one of the hottest in the league in the now 6-0 Arizona Cardinals. Before facing the 49ers, the Cardinals averaged 304 passing yards per game and 2.5 touchdowns through the air.
The Cardinals would finish that game with just 210 yards passing and one throwing touchdown despite pulling off the 17-10 win.
The Niners were able to stall the Arizona offense by applying pressure and sticking with receivers when Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray extended plays. The defense gave San Francisco an opportunity to win against the NFL’s only remaining unbeaten team, so fans should remain optimistic this team can succeed moving forward.
49ers secondary has come up huge despite injuries
The 49ers have been rotating players throughout their secondary ever since starting cornerback Jason Verrett tore his ACL in the opener. Cornerbacks Josh Norman, Emmanuel Moseley, and K’Waun Williams have all been banged up or injured during this season as well.
Despite the struggle to keep the core of the secondary healthy, though, the Niners have still found success defending the pass.
Moseley has played exceptionally well, giving up zero touchdowns on the season and allowing just 1.4 yards of separation between him and his receiver on each target, per playerprofiler.com. Moseley also has a burn rate (percentage of targets allowed in which the defensive back’s assigned receiver gained more than 5 yards of separation down the field) of zero percent, which leads the NFL.
Turnovers are the only question mark for 49ers defense
Although San Francisco’s defense has ranked in the top five for several statistical categories, turnovers are not one of them. The defense has played well, but it has yet to produce a decent number of turnovers on the season.
On the season, the 49ers only have one interception and one forced fumble that resulted in a turnover, which ranks dead last in the NFL.
Defensive backs have accounted for zero of the Niners’ interceptions with their only one coming from linebacker Dre Greenlaw way back in Week 1. To win games moving forward, the defense needs to focus on forcing turnovers and giving the offense short fields to work with. Their strength certainly sits on the defensive side of the ball and the easier the defense can make it for the offense to score more points the better.
Positive regression should be in store as well, as San Francisco’s turnover rate is one of the lowest of the past several seasons through five games.
That alone might be the stat suggesting the 49ers can potentially rebound from the struggles they’ve experienced as of late. If turnovers become more frequent and the defense continues its prowess elsewhere, the Niners will be in a much, much better position.
Creating turnovers should be atop of the discussion when setting goals for the defense, and one would expect defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to make it a point of emphasis in the coming weeks.