Communication gaps speak volumes for 49ers’ defensive woes

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, scores past San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, left, and linebacker Reuben Foster during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Sanchez)

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers have missed 55 tackles through four games, a league high. But tackling isn’t the defense’s biggest issue. Communication is the bigger problem, according to 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“We did a much better job (tackling) in the first half,” Saleh said Thursday, referring to last Sunday’s 29-27 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. “It needs to get better, still, but I do like where it’s going.”

The defense missed just two tackles during the first half, then missed five during the second half. None of those seven mistakes led to touchdowns for the Chargers. The 49ers tackled well enough to win.

But poor communication was a serious issue. The 49ers lost partly because the defense miscommunicated once in the red zone and handed the Chargers seven free points.

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This article has 107 Comments

  1. Shanny throws guys under the bus every week, not even jg was immune. I’m glad Saleh hasn’t done the same facing increasing scrutiny……no need to blast guys by name in the media, take a look in the mirror first because the problem usually originates there.

  2. Bad tackling, poor communication, too many penalties…I could go on. Where’s the head coach during all this. Oh yeah. Grant wrote about that two days ago. Something about a war he’s got going.

        1. Speaking of war: “Good tactics can save even the worst strategy. Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy.” George S. Patton. Our HC and our OC need to divide up the strategy/tactics planning to succeed.
          Oh wait.

      1. Interesting. Ronnie must have read Grant’s article.
        ‘We can sit here and try to say its about communication, but it is always all about coaching.’ RL.

        1. Yes Sebbie, I’m sure Ronnie read Grant’s work prior to the interview. We know that Ronnie is absolutely clueless when it comes to football basics. Had to get it from Grant. Yup.

  3. Imagine… If CJ lost the tip of his tongue while carelessly letting it flop around during a blindside tackle, communication on the offensive side of the ball would be deeply compromised. Bad communication on offense AND defense. Sure hope the special teams keep their stuff together…

  4. The bottom line is I’ll never get the 5 minutes back I just wasted reading that ‘“duh” filled piece. It’s like there’s a competition going on between Seb and Grant for the title “Captain Obvious”. One of my grandkids, a 12 year old boy, watched the game with me on Sunday and pretty much pointed out the same things Grant just did. Then again he actually plays football.

    1. Yeah, but does your grandkid state the obvious with such panache and nuance as our UCLA English major grad? Which reminds me, next time I meet my old friend who teaches English at UCLA, I will congratulate her Department for producing grads with such fine fiction writing skills….

      1. No, Juan expects Pee Wee football players to be able to explain the finer nuances about pro football strategy, schemes and tactics to him.
        So that is the problem with the Niners? They need a Pee Wee football player to coach them up? So obvious.

  5. Khalil Mack is both a good tackler and communicator. Our half assed attempt to acquire him failed.
    Josh Gordon pulled in a great TD catch last night out muscling 2 CBS. What a great redzone target. Our half assed attempt to acquire him failed.

    Who is running the show for the Niners? Who is the team executive leader?

  6. Sherman may diss the players and absolve the coaches, but poor communication is solved by better coaching.
    Saleh acknowledges that Rosen played well against the Pete Carroll defense, so he should change things up. If they rush only 4 all game, expect Rosen to pick them apart.
    Watched the Seahawk/Cards game. It was interesting to note that Mike Davis scored twice for the Seahawks, another former Niner.
    CJB is going to have a difficult time against the Card defense. Do not think he will emulate Wilson. That guy is as slippery as an eel. The Niners must establish a running game, or CJB will get bludgeoned.

      1. At all times! Whether in the heat of a game, or tossing the ol’ pigskin around before the game. And to break the habit, even during activities unmentionable in a family oriented blog.

    1. In six months we’ll be arguing the merits of dozens of mock drafts. Seems like a long time, but the combine and run-up to the draft will be here quickly. Very quickly.

      1. With all the injuries this year it seems like we’re playing with a mock roster. We might be too worn out to argue about mock drafts by then.

    2. If your only reason for watching and following the team is to enjoy wins then yes it will be a waste of your time. If you are interested in seeing a team develop and plant the seeds for the future then it’s well worth your time. If you are a degenerate fan of the sport, it doesn’t matter what the issue is. You watch anyway.

      1. I think you prefer some of the more intellectually stimulating movies, like Cloud Atlas and Inception. Mamma Mia would be an insult…

    1. Yeah, I’m with you. Going to be a rough ride but Shanny and Lynch should stay the course. They still have a lot of work to do but I do believe the 49ers have the right coaches and personnel people to get it done. I’m a little undecided on Saleh but he’s been dealt a really crappy hand. Overcoming injuries and lack of talent at key spots is a lot to ask of any d-coordinator. I’m not too panicked about lack of communication. The 49ers had 3 new starters in the secondary and Foster in only his 2nd game back from suspension. Saleh gets a pass for now too. I’m just going to kick back this year and not let me pre-season hopes get in the way of watching this team grow and get better.

      1. Lynch kept the scouting department the same as it was under Baalke.

        The last 2 drafts have included a DE with the 3rd pick and 5 defensive backs, yet we are still talking about the defense needing to add to both areas.

        1. Wow. That’s really weird. I guess I just dreamed that Lynch fired Mike Williams and Quentus Cumby. Then hired Ran Carthon as Director of Pro Personnel, Adam Peters as VP of Player Personnel, and Martin Mayhew as Senior Personnel Executive. I’m sure those changes were just a dream and you are absolutely correct. Lynch kept all Baalke’s guys and didn’t hire anyone else. SMDH.

          1. Houston,

            Please work on reading comprehension. I said the scouting department is the same. Yes they hired new guys at the upper levels, but the Director of College Scouting and the other college scouts have remained the same. As you say, SMDH.

            1. Dude, no changes to the Scouting Dept even though they made wholesale changes to the Scouting Dept? Take the L you moron.

    2. If one leaves out the season-ending injuries to QB #1 and RB #1, things are at a point where it can be expected with steady growth of a very young team, and coaches who are HC and DC for the first time.

      When Shanalynch arrived, there were starters in the team who were not NFL-quality. They are gone, and many of those starters were replaced with rookies and backup-quality vets. Even the best draft hit on 40-50% (i.e., long-term starters in rounds 1-3, and solid backups in rounds 4-7). The two drafts have produced only one clear bust in Joe Williams (which was a risky pick in the first place anyway). In the second year, last year’s rookies are showing clear development unless they have been slowed down by injuries (e.g., Spoon and Colbert), or being played more out of position (Thomas). The coaches are still learning (especially with Grant and his bloggers ready to impart valuable unsolicited advice). The front office made a failed bet on pass rush with Attaochu and Marsh, but should fix that next off-season.

      1. Normally, I would agree with you on this Scooter. But lately, I’ve been feeling impatient. After all, Harbaugh blip aside, it’s been almost 20 years since we had the powerhouse offenses (maybe the Mooch years as well). But to be clear, my impatience has more to do with the circumstances of losing JG and McKinnon and not with the coaching staff (with the exception of Saleh).

        1. Nw cubus, though I should point out you are actually agreeing with me, even if unintended. :-)

          Don’t feel bad though, you are in good company. As I said, impatience is a hallmark of being a fan. I too am impatient wanting the team to be good again. I get frustrated seeing them losing due to silly mistakes and having key players go down with injury. I get frustrated seeing players they have spent good coin or draft picks on not performing as hoped. But ultimately I remind myself of where the team was a year ago and through that lens I can see considerable improvement in the overall talent level on the team. And the offense at least is decent.

  7. Wondering if Staley will retire at the end of the season–or later in the winter. Would be mildly surprised if he hung on through 2019.

    1. He just might hang in there for another season if his knee doesn’t get worse. He seems to enjoy Kyle’s offense more than any he’s had earlier in his career.

  8. I’m always learning Seb, even from a 12 year old. You should try it. Teaching is “obviously” not your strong suit. :) That being the case however, don’t ever let that stop you from posting your exceptionally long winded, monotonous screeds of “obviousness”. They are always worth a good laugh, and a great way to start out the day. ;p

    1. Juan…

      Take it from me, with a glass of 7&7, they are a great way to end the day as well!! Sebby put-downs are priceless!!!!!

    2. Juan, glad you can take it, along with dishing it out. Cassie thought I was being too mean to you.
      As for teaching, in the Kittle interview on KNBR, he mentioned KS was telling CJB to look off the safety. That made my day.
      Yes, my monotonous missives have born fruit, so I am glad that they obviously have gotten a clue.
      Now, if only they could treat time outs like they are precious…… ;p

  9. On another note, I have a daughter that is waiting for her results from taking the California Bar Exam. I’m really, really hoping and praying that a plumber isn’t grading her exam. That would be about the equivalent of Grant Cohn or anyone else not actually “involved or in football” grading a professional football team after a game. The whole “premise” is laughable and frankly obnoxious.

  10. Your right Mid. The team is EXACTLY where they should be “record wise” right now. Does anybody really think, especially considering the amount of injuries, including their starting QB, that they should have beat MINN, KC, or the LACers? Come on. The whining is unbelievable and without fact. Now if they lose this week to a team they probably should beat, then some crying is allowed. :)

  11. They didn’t Hammer. They were underdogs. If they won it would have been an upset. The Chargers are better than the Niners. That’s why they won. The Niners aren’t as good as the Chargers. That’s why they lost. It’s pretty simple. Someday, hopefully, the Niners will be good enough to upset better teams. They’re not there yet. As grandma always said, “The proof is in the pudding”.

    1. No kidding they didn’t win One, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have. Up 14-0 in the first, up 17-14 late in the 2nd and up 27-26 in the 4th.

      They lost because they gifted LA 6 points on an interception and a punt return, the second of which probably doesn’t happen if they’d tried to run out the clock.

      LA is a good team, but they aren’t much better than SF. It was a winnable game.

  12. There has been some derision directed at the Niner Fitness and Training staff regarding the number of injuries the team has suffered and yet last night we saw a team (Colts) dress two fewer than the max because they didn’t have enough healthy bodies to field a complete active roster. Is the problem with the individual training staffs or is it a case of athletes getting to large and muscled up for the tendons and ligaments to handle? Players being held out for things players didn’t get held out for 20 years ago? Interesting situation that is tough to find an answer to.

    1. I suspect it’s not because of declining professionalism within the ranks of trainers and conditioning coaches.

      Fun background info…

      Current NFL…


      Perhaps Grant could dig into this topic and report on the whats and whys–objectively, yet with a compelling and credible voice.

    2. Isn’t part of athletes getting too muscled up on the training staff though? These guys are hired to get the athletes in peak condition for a football season. If they are helping them get too big for their bodies to handle the strain they aren’t doing their job appropriately.

        1. Good point Scooter. I’m not sure what the focus is but I would think Strength and flexibility would be more important than mass.

    3. I think the increase in injuries has to do with the reduction in organized team activities due to the CBA. These guys are just not in football shape like they used to be.

      1. I’m sure that plays its part, too.

        The law of unintended consequences at work. Vet players argued hard for a lot of money, including supporting a rookie pay scale so vets got a larger slice of the pie, and a reduction in how much they needed to work to get it. As a result players aren’t ready by the start of the season, the injuries are piling up, and coaches are needing to find ways to simplify things so cheaper rookies can still contribute early and take the jobs of the vets anyway. Which just makes the game less watchable, and ultimately will eventually erode the money coming in to the game and thus how much money the players get.

        I hope they wisen up a little come the next negotiations.

      2. That could play a part in it, but by this time of the season they are or at least should be in football condition. The biggest issue I see with not practicing more in the offseason and TC is the quality of play in September.

    4. Rocket,
      Great points you made:
      You changed my mind toward it’s not fair to pin it all on the training staff, and my ego is still intact.

      The “injury bug” the Niners have had for a few years was something D. Whitner spoke to on last night’s Niners game plan show. Besides picking apart the Defenses communication mistakes, he also was tasked with the question of whether the injuries were beyond normal. He gave accounts of “more than normal” amount of injuries from his entire 5-year Niner run that ended in 2013; and agreed that they were abnormal. Remember the Seattle o-line dirty hitting Niners best interior D-line Ian Williams? I wanted “payback” for that, for years, but wouldn’t really want to see another pro get hurt “just doing their job.”

      Do you think some teams “get away with” more dirty play than others?
      Seeing the late hits on Beat-hard, three roughing calls, made me wish for ejections when they looked intentional.

  13. Very good point Rocket. I’m sure someone on here can dig up some stats on the amount of injuries this year (or last year being able to use a full year) vs previous but it does seem that it is getting worse year to year as the players get bigger and bigger.

  14. Yes agreed, i think the O-line has definitely been one of the silver linings of this year so far, they have played well together and really have done well created space for Breida.

  15. Is there a site that shows true points given up by the defense?

    For example, of the 118 points allowed by the 49ers there’s 13 that were given up by the offense or special teams, 10 points from interception returns and 3 points from a punt return. Would be interesting to see that type of stuff taken into account and how it would change the numbers across the whole league.

      1. I don’t know enough about how they calculate that. There’s a large gap between where this D ranks in yards allowed and the points allowed. That partially helps to bridge the gap.

  16. And in news that should be surprising to absolutely nobody, Jimmy Ward tweaked a hamstring and is questionable for Sunday.

  17. And in further news, Ted Robinson leaned too close to his microphone while practicing and poked himself in the eye. He’s questionable for Sunday. So the season continues to unfolds.

      1. Come on people, focus:

        Earl Thomas is available for trade. All we need to do is give up a third rounder, Greg Mabin and Colbert.
        Wait, Ballke isn’t here anymore, so we can’t pull that one off.

  18. I’ve mentioned Sutton Smith as a potential 2nd/3rd round Leo prospect previously. Another guy the 49ers should be keeping tabs on is Jachai Polite from Florida. He gonna be good.

  19. Cass,
    Those are good reads (12:56pm) entry.
    I found it interesting that the majority of the injuries listed were lower body types i.e. hamstring, ankle, groin and knee.

    I’ve always wondered if playing on synthetic vs natural grass has been a cause for so many leg injures. I don’t know of any actual fact finding studies to determine the number of injuries caused on either side but it would make for an interesting study.

    Synthetic in-fill turf is a must in cities with harsh weather climates, but if a team plays on synthetic turf one week than plays on natural grass the following week it seems to me that it would make difference, even if it’s a minor one (imo).


      Don’t cringe, it’s not a “Fox” study; and just reports on another study, of which there are many.

      Fake grass is more grippy and produced a 40% higher ACL injury rate. Current trend if for grass over a rubber pellet “infill.” Less fake grass is used in high schools (not cited in referenced study) because of parents suing the makers and district officials.

  20. With the RPO, and overall evolution of NFL offenses towards quick reads and quicker plays, communication is now as important as alignment/assignment. These are what are called “fixable” things.

    I’m missing the “two Smiths” days, when we had an absolute beast to crush the pocket (Justin) and a pass rusher that was one of the tops at rushing the passer and learned to set an edge (Aldon).

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