Robert Saleh's fiery personality rubbing off on dominant 49ers defense

Robert Saleh's fiery personality rubbing off on dominant 49ers defense

LOS ANGELES -- The 49ers’ defense has taken on the personality of its coordinator.

The unit plays with energy and passion, much the same way that fist-pumping Robert Saleh coaches from the sideline.

On the field Sunday, D.J. Jones and others in the middle of the 49ers’ defensive line twice stacked up Los Angeles Rams running back Malcolm Brown at the goal line during a key sequence late in the first half. As the 49ers reacted with jubilation on the field, they were greeted by Saleh going wild on the sideline.

“I’m not going to lie,” Saleh said afterward, “I black out during those moments. I get excited for the guys and their success. When they make big plays, I feel like I’m right there with them.

“When we fail, I’m right there with them, too. So, we’re always together.”

There have been no failing grades for the 49ers’ defense during the team’s five-game win streak to open the season. The defense has led the way, and on Sunday, they provided all the momentum necessarily when they buckled down for an impressive goal-line stand to highlight the 49ers' 20-7 victory over the Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“It was huge -- huge,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “Any time we get a fourth-down stop, we treat that like a takeaway. It gives the offense energy, too. That was a big play.”

The 49ers’ defense was at their best on third and fourth downs. The Rams failed to convert on any of their nine third-down plays. They were 0-for-4 on fourth downs.

The Rams, playing without star running back Todd Gurley, leaned on Brown and rookie Darrell Henderson for their running game. Henderson gained 22 and 14 yards on back-to-back runs, as the Rams looked to break a 7-7 tie in the second quarter.

After Richard Sherman tackled Henderson at the 1-yard line on a second-and-5 run play, Jones and Kwon Alexander stacked up Brown for no gain on a third down. Rams coach Sean McVay opted to go for it on fourth down.

Jones and Arik Armstead teamed up for the fourth-down tackle of Brown, thwarting the Rams’ last best scoring chance. Jones didn’t even know how big of a play it was at the time.

“To be honest, I didn’t know it was fourth down because they were running that hurry-up and I didn’t get a chance to look up at the scoreboard,” Jones said. “It just feels good to be out there and know that 10 other guys have your back.”

Each time, the 49ers could look to the sideline to see their leader, Saleh, and his unmistakable shiny bald head, reacting with delight, reveling in the successes of the defense.

“Any time we get off the field, he’s pretty hyped,” Warner said.

“It’s awesome,” 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas said. “Coach is a genius. He has a defensive football mind, and he loves to communicate with the players and understand what we’re seeing and getting everything into place. It’s special to play for him.”

Said defensive lineman Arik Armstead: “I notice him every now and then. It gets us fired up. He’s the leader of our defense from a coaching standpoint. To have him fired up and excited about what we’re doing on the field is a great feeling.”

Saleh came under fire the past two seasons for the 49ers’ defensive woes. Last year, the team set all-time NFL records in futility after generating just seven takeaways, including two interceptions. The 49ers won just 10 games in the first two seasons with Saleh serving as coach Kyle Shanahan's top defensive coach.

Shanahan had to answer questions over those first two seasons about whether he'd consider firing Saleh as defensive coordinator. Shanahan remained a staunch supporter, and now he's answering questions about whether he might lose Saleh after this season to a head-coaching opporunity.

“The energy is infectious,” Thomas said. “It’s amazing to be out there. You feel like everybody has this swag to them.

"We go out there and play our game. We know how good we can be, so every time we have a chance to go out there, we can set a new standard for how good we are.”

[RELATED: How 49ers locked in after allowing early TD]

The 49ers put together a defensive masterpiece to shut down Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman issued praise afterward for a long list of players and assistants, including safeties coach Daniel Bullocks and defensive backs/passing game coordinator Joe Woods.

“We just go out there and execute and play at a high level,” Sherman said. “Another testament to Saleh, and DB and Joe Woods, because they came up with an incredible game plan, very sound, and we executed.”

Fred Warner does it all for 49ers' defense in Kwon Alexander's absence


Fred Warner does it all for 49ers' defense in Kwon Alexander's absence

SANTA CLARA – Not only did the 49ers lose linebacker Kwon Alexander to a season-ending injury in Week 9, but linebacker Fred Warner did not play well that night against the Arizona Cardinals.

Warner responded Monday night with what 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh described as the best game of his two-year NFL career.

“I thought he was just on it,” Saleh said. “He played violent.”

Warner recorded 10 tackles, including the first two sacks of his career, and a forced fumble that DeForest Buckner scooped up and returned for a touchdown. He became the first player with that stat line since Chicago defensive lineman Akiem Hicks on Dec. 4, 2016.

Warner did it all for the 49ers’ defense in the club’s 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night while taking on more responsibility with rookie Dre Greenlaw taking over for Alexander.

“That was really cool to watch, just him pick up the slack that we lost from Kwon and play with that much passion,” 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa said. “It’s fun to have him on the field.

“It was usually him calling the plays and Kwon being the energy guy. And now it’s him doing both. He calls the play. He gets us lined up. And he brings the energy, so he’s really important.”

Warner displayed his ability to rush the passer, which is a new look for the 49ers’ defense. Saleh said he believes the threat of Warner coming on blitzes will prove beneficial to the team’s defensive linemen.

“The most important thing for us is, by them having to account for him, especially using a lineman, is now you’ve got your four D-Linemen in one-on-one situations, our four horses,” Saleh said. “If they’re in one-on-one situations, you’re pretty confident that one of them is going to win. They’ve got to bring in extra people to protect and now it’s are we blitzing or are we rushing four?

“It’s just a cat-and-mouse game. When you have to account for him, you’re freeing up your four horses in the one-on-one situations.”

Warner and the 49ers return to action against the Cardinals on Sunday at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers' defense had its worst game on Oct. 31 in a 28-25 victory over Arizona, a game in which Warner had two missed tackles. Saleh said he expects more performances from Warner like what he showed against the Seahawks.

"He had a very good game and now it goes back to consistency being the truest measure of performance. He’s got to go stack it up and do it again," Saleh said.


John Lynch frustrated by drops, but won't panic about 49ers' wideouts


John Lynch frustrated by drops, but won't panic about 49ers' wideouts

It’s no secret that the 49ers had some problems completing passes in Monday night’s 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. 

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took the majority of the heat for the subpar effort, but the film indicates more than a handful of drops by his wide receivers.

General manager John Lynch recognizes that his group had a rough go of it against the Seahawks, but isn’t panicked about his young wideouts.

"We do have belief in this group,” Lynch said on KNBR's "Tolbert, Krueger, and Brooks" show Thursday afternoon. “They had a rough night the other night. We expect them to catch the football better, and I think we left over 100 yards in drops out there."

Emmanuel Sanders leaving the game early with a rib injury didn’t help matters, as Garoppolo’s top target over the last few weeks left a significant void in a passing game that was already down Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle.

That being said, Lynch isn't in a rush to go outside the organization to find another healthy pass-catcher.

"We'll always look to try to improve ourselves," Lynch said. "I mean, a lot of that has come and gone. The trade deadline has passed. There is another avenue of looking at other people's practice squads.

"Emmanuel was a little bit of a unique situation in that he's such a veteran, and he was playing in a very similar offense. Coming in mid-stream, and doing that is difficult."

[RELATED: 49ers rookie Samuel tries to emulate Kittle's physicality]

For now, the 49ers passing game must rally together and look to improve with the Arizona Cardinals -- who nearly took San Francisco down in a Week 9 showdown on Thursday Night Football -- riding into Levi’s Stadium.