Until the final seven minutes of the Super Bowl, the defense was the strength of the 49ers last season.
Robert Saleh’s defense was among the best in the NFL in 2019. The 49ers allowed the fewest passing yards of any NFL defense in a decade. The 49ers ranked No. 2 in total yards allowed.
But, still, the 49ers’ goal for the upcoming season is simple – though it will not be easy to attain.
“We’re just trying to be better than we were last year,” 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa said during the team’s State of the Franchise virtual event on 49ers.com.
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The 49ers return the vast majority of their defense from a year ago. Defensive tackles DeForest Buckner (trade) and Sheldon Day (free agent) are now members of the Indianapolis Colts. The 49ers added South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw with the No. 14 overall pick in the draft to compensate for those losses.
The minimal offseason player movement and compatibility with the returners could be beneficial to the 49ers’ defense, especially because on-field offseason programs around the NFL were canceled this spring due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s the way we work together as a group of defense,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “The fact that we have so much chemistry with one another. That shows on the football field. You can tell why when we turn the tape on, it looks different from everybody else. It just does. And I think that’s because we play so hard for one another.”
The 49ers limited Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offense to just 10 points through 3 ½ quarters of Super Bowl LIV. But Kansas City ripped off 21 points in the closing minutes to send the 49ers to a 31-20 loss to close the season.
The fact the 49ers came up short in the Super Bowl only serves as motivation to clear the high bar that was set last season, All-Decade cornerback Richard Sherman said.
“We’re just a bunch of guys who play hard, who care about one another, who care about the game, who want to be successful and want to sacrifice for one another,” Sherman said. “I think any time you bring that combination with the talent we have at all three levels of the defense, you’re going to have a recipe for success.
“With the leadership and the talent we have coming back, we can be even better. We left some plays out there, myself included. We have some unfinished business.”
The 49ers made dramatic improvements last season after some outside the organization were calling for Saleh’s removal as defensive coordinator after the 2017 and ’18 seasons.
“I think we took major leaps as a defense (last) year, but I think we can be even better moving forward in the future,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “So cleaning up some of the mistakes from last year and striving to be better than we were.”