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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Saleh searching for answers to 49ers’ pass rush woes

Sep 28, 2017 at 1:46 PM--

Three NFL quarterbacks have faced the San Francisco 49ers defense so far this season. There have been mixed results for a defense that is looking to up its game when it comes to pressuring quarterbacks. It is an aspect of the unit that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who spoke to the media on Thursday, knows must improve and he feels the team is close.

The three quarterbacks the 49ers defense has faced are Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, and Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams. They have brought down just one of those quarterbacks – Russell Wilson, whom they sacked three times. The other two came away clean.

During Week 1, Newton was pressured during just six of his 26 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. That number was tied for the third-least among quarterbacks during the opening week of play.

During Week 2, Wilson was pressured during 21 of his 45 dropbacks. That number was the second-most among quarterbacks that week.

During Week 3, Goff was pressured during 10 of his 28 dropbacks. That number ended up being tied for the eighth-least among quarterbacks that week.

The 49ers have had very different results from week-to-week with their best endeavor to create a pass rush coming against Seattle, which was expected due to the flaws along the Seahawks' offensive line.

Saleh was asked if blitzing more would help the 49ers defense create consistent pressure.

"We've tried blitzing on third down and we've lost," Saleh told reporters. "We've tried rushing three and we've lost. We've tried rushing four and we haven't had success. So, we're digging. We're trying to find a way to give our guys a chance to be successful on third down.

"We had that first third down won. Again, it just goes back to just silly mistakes here and there, unneeded penalties, unneeded fundamental flaws. Every week represents a different challenge and so blitzing is not necessarily the answer ... We didn't blitz against Seattle and got plenty of pressure. We blitzed against Cam and he had a 40-yard touchdown."

Elvis Dumervil's role on the defense came into the conversation when Saleh was asked if the team is looking to increase the edge defender's playing time as the season continues.

"It goes back to us being dominant on first and second down – or even first down – to give yourself some second-and-long, third-and-long opportunities where he can get on the field," Saleh said.

With defensive end Tank Carradine on injured reserve, Saleh was asked what the 49ers plan to do to make up for his loss.

"We have really good football players on the front that are capable of doing a lot of different things," Saleh said. "Between [DeForest] Buckner, Solomon [Thomas], [Arik] Armstead, Earl Mitchell, DJ [Jones], Xavier Cooper, Aaron Lynch, all of them, we've got to find a way to best utilize their strengths to put us in position to be dominant on first and second down so we can get our four best pass rushers on the field so we can get after the quarterback on third down.

"Trying to pigeonhole as a Big End, Leo, it's past that point now. It's trying to get our four best guys on the football field to put them in position to be successful so we can be successful on third down."

While he does not yet have a sack this season, DeForest Buckner leads interior defenders with 16 total pressures, again, according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, only linebacker Carl Lawson of the Cincinnati Bengals has more with 17 total pressures.

"DeForest is dominating and those sacks are going to come in bunches for him," Saleh said. "I know he hasn't gotten the sacks yet but if he keeps doing what he's doing and he keeps operating the way he is, there's no doubt in my mind he's going to flood the gates open.

"My comparison would be [Falcons linebacker] Vic Beasley. I know they're two completely different people but Vic Beasley through four games last year – so, 16, 20 games if you include his rookie year – wasn't getting much production on the quarterback but you could feel some of his presence. And then the last whatever games, he just opened the floodgates with sacks."

Saleh believes the entire 49ers defense line is very close to breaking through and becoming dominant. It will just take them continuing to work.


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