Editor’s note: The 49ers break for the bye week with a 2-8 record. This is part of a series that recaps the first 10 games with an eye to the future. In this installment, we examine what has gone wrong.
We could look at the minus-15 turnover margin.
We could look at the 49ers’ inability to close out four games in the fourth quarter.
We could look at the rash of injuries to some of the team’s top players, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon.
We could look at a number of areas that have combined to make the 49ers among the worst teams in the NFL and in strong contention for the No. 1 overall pick.
But there was one shortcoming of the 49ers that was predictable, and that led to a trickle-down of problems with the team.
Every team is looking for pass-rushers. The 49ers looked for players to get heat on the quarterback in the offseason. They ended up re-signing Cassius Marsh and adding free-agent Jeremiah Attaochu.
Marsh has been the 49ers’ best edge rusher, though he has just 3.5 sacks with 2.5 coming against the Raiders in Week 9. Attaochu proved difficult to motivate, and the 49ers cut him before the start of the regular season.
The 2018 draft was not exactly teeming with edge rushers – it rarely is – so the 49ers did not even try to reach for a player out of desperation. There was one pass-rusher who was far-and-away better than the others, and the 49ers had no shot at him.
The Denver Broncos, who already had Von Miller, invested the fifth overall pick in Bradley Chubb. He leads all rookies with nine sacks.
Marcus Davenport was considered a possibility for the 49ers at No. 9, but general manager John Lynch and the rest of the organization have no buyer’s remorse with their pick of right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Where the 49ers might want a re-do would be in the second round. The 49ers selected wide receiver Dante Pettis. Eight spots later, the Indianapolis Colts chose edge rusher Kemoko Turay of Rutgers. Turay is tied for third in the NFL among rookies with four sacks. Davenport also has four sacks with the New Orleans Saints.
DeForest Buckner has been the team’s only consistent pass-rusher. He leads the 49ers with six sacks. Ronald Blair is tied with Marsh for second with 3.5 sacks apiece. The 49ers have 25 sacks in 10 games, but eight of them came against the Raiders.
Because the 49ers have not generated steady pressure, it has forced defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to get more creative with his calls. And that has not been successful, either.
The 49ers’ defense is based on the Seattle Seahawks scheme the Seattle Seahawks have deployed with great success for years. It is designed to be a simple three-deep scheme. But with the lack of pressure from the four-man pass rush, Saleh has tried to get inventive to generate a pass rush.
The result has been more blown coverages and exploitation of mismatches. Offenses have detected the vulnerabilities in the 49ers’ defense what would not be so easily exposed if the 49ers had a better pass rush.