SANTA CLARA – It has been a dramatic decline for the 49ers' defense since its impressive Week 1 performance against the Los Angeles Rams.
After the shutout victory in the season opener, the 49ers’ defense has fallen fast and hard.
The club owns the league’s worst run defense. The opposition has posted a 100-yard rusher in each of the past five games. On Sunday, the 49ers allowed 312 yards rushing – second-most in franchise history – in a 45-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
In spite of it all, Jim O’Neil, who coach Chip Kelly hired to be the defensive coordinator, said he sees reason for hope.
“I don’t get too wrapped up in the statistic stuff,” he said. “We’ve got a group of guys that point the finger at themselves. They’re not looking for excuses. So, to me, when you have that in the locker room and you have that in your coaching staff, it gives you a chance to grow because it takes the ego out of it.
“If you have guys that are looking to blame other people, you’ve got no chance. So that’s where it starts. I do see specific techniques improving.”
NaVorro Bowman, the 49ers’ leading tackler, is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Inside linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong is out with a torn pectoral. The 49ers are starting Nick Bellore and Michael Wilhoite at the inside linebacker positions.
Starting cornerback Jimmie Ward has missed three games with a quadriceps strain. But rookie Rashard Robinson has stepped in and played well in Ward’s spot.
Defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, the team’s top two picks in the past two seasons, have shown some good things. But they have not been able to prevent the team’s run defense from allowing 174.3 yards rushing per game.
“I know we’re a long way from where we want to be, OK?” O’Neil said. “I by no means am satisfied. Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed by what happened this past Sunday. But I am positive as to where this is going.
“I think Chip’s got a great plan. I think we have a great coaching staff. We have a lot of good, young talent. We’ve just got to continue to develop guys.
We’ve got a lot of guys playing for us that don’t have a ton of NFL experience. Every time that they’re out there, they learn so much and those reps are so valuable for them. So, just as we go, it’s going to turn.”