Niners defense has been a disappointment

We’re roughly one-third of the way through the season. (Actually, we’re 31.25 percent of the way through the 49ers’ 16-game schedule, but who’s counting?) So this seems like a perfect time to take a step back.

We’re roughly one-third of the way through the season. (Actually, we’re 31.25 percent of the way through the 49ers’ 16-game schedule, but who’s counting?) So this seems like a perfect time to take a step back.

 

OK, I’ll ‘fess up. I was unable to make it to Santa Clara today for reasons that are way too boring to discuss. But that won’t keep me from weighing in on team matters.

 

I’m looking at the league stats right now. What I see is the 49ers have the No. 21-ranked offense in the league. That’s pretty darn good, considering where the 49ers ranked last season.

 

The defense was supposed to carry the 49ers this season. However, the defense is ranked tied for 21st in the league, too.

 

Those stats cited are “average yards per game.” The per-play stats paint a difference picture. The offense ranks ninth in the league, while the defense is 10th. Obviously, those stats are simply misleading. Good offenses keep the ball and avoid three-and-outs, while good defenses get off the field quickly.

 

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I don’t think there’s any question that the 49ers’ defense has been a disappointment through five games, and certainly in each of the team’s three losses. This is a veteran unit. The team boasts the most-experienced secondary in the league. Justin Smith and Takeo Spikes are seasoned NFL veterans, and Patrick Willis plays like one.

 

It seems as if this defense does not have an identity. Is it an aggressive, attacking defense? Is it a sit-back, read-and-react defense? They certainly appear to be the latter, though they’d like to say they fit into the other category.

 

“When people look at us, I think we definitely have an ID,” Spikes said. “But it’s not consistent, perception-wise, of what we want across the (defense). But it’s still early. That’s just the way it goes. We have time.”

 

And what does Spikes see as the team’s identity?

 

“To make plays and force turnovers,” he said.

 

The 49ers have done a good job of forcing turnovers – nearly two a game. But they typically don’t make the important play when it’s needed to get off the field and avoid long drives.

 

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Some have suggested the 49ers do not play with fire, passion and intensity. That is very difficult for me to gauge. Smith has a non-stop motor; Willis is all over the field; and I’ve never seen a cornerback come up so aggressively in run support like Nate Clements. While you can question the consistency of some of the other players, there is not a defender on the team I would dismiss as somebody who doesn’t care.

 

I didn’t see a lot of overt fire from the Patriots last week. What I saw was a defense that was well-coached, in position to make plays and generally tackled very well. I saw a very business-like approach to the game.

 

I think if a team is making plays and winning games, people automatically assume all those elements are there. If a team is losing, it’s easy to question the passion of the players. After all, it looks really silly to see defensive players jumping around and high-fiving when they just surrendered a 7-yard pass on third-and-5.

 

Please share your opinions on the topic. I’m curious what you think.

 

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