SANTA CLARA — The 49ers believe they can improve their historically bad defensive backfield without changing it.
They brought back all five starters from a 2018 secondary that intercepted only two passes (a new NFL low), broke up just 39 passes (a league low in 2018) and gave up a quarterback rating of 105.4 (second-worst in the NFL). And yet, the 49ers insist those numbers will improve next season, because the 49ers will disguise their coverages and use quality edge rushers they didn’t have in 2017 or 2018.
“(Playing defense without good edge rushers) is like telling an offense to get by without a good quarterback,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Wednesday after OTAs. “It starts with the (defensive) front. It’s a big man’s game. And our front has a chance to be special. It’s a very talented group. That will finally come to light because we’ve got the speed element (with Dee Ford), along with Nick Bosa’s power to fill out the edges.”
Last season, the 49ers’ primary edge rushers were Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair, and they recorded only 5.5 sacks apiece. Neither scared opposing offenses or forced opposing quarterbacks to throw the ball quickly.
“When an offense changes the way they approach us and attack us, then I know we’re getting pressure on the quarterback and changing their entire philosophy,” Saleh explained. “Last season, the routes we were seeing were long-developing. The quarterback was able to go through his progressions and either throw it away or take a checkdown. Now, he can’t go to his next progression because if he does, he should be getting hit by somebody. That didn’t happen as frequently as we would’ve liked a year ago.”
Saleh believes the 49ers’ new and improved pass rush will force quarterbacks to rush in the pocket and throw the ball quicker than they’d like to, which will allow the 49ers’ defensive backs to play faster, better and more aggressively than they did the past two seasons.
Click here to read the rest of the article.