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Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is “baffled” by the 49ers’ failure to force turnovers

Chris Wilson
Dec 20, 2018 at 4:20 PM--

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If you're surprised by the San Francisco 49ers' lack of takeaways in 2018, you're not alone. 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh can't believe it either.

In his weekly press conference on Thursday, Saleh spoke at length about his defense's failures in the turnover department this season. "There's no reason why we shouldn't be in the middle of the pack with all of the opportunities we have had," Saleh told reporters. "We're almost snake-bitten. I should probably go to church a little more."

The 49ers' turnover differential, which currently sits at a league-low -22 on the year, has been a point of concern for San Francisco over the entire 2018 season. But while the Niners have been able to protect the ball on offense in recent weeks, Saleh's defensive unit has continued to struggle with takeaways.

The 49ers rank last in the NFL with just two interceptions and three fumble recoveries in 2018. San Francisco's five takeaways in 14 games is a shocking statistic. By comparison, the Baltimore Ravens rank 31st in the league with 11 takeaways, and the 49ers' Week 16 opponent -- the Chicago Bears -- lead the NFL with 35.

Saleh blames the 49ers' turnover troubles on a combination of poor execution and bad luck, but not a lack of opportunity. The 49ers' defensive coordinator told reporters his coaching staff tracks missed turnover opportunities, or "missed opps." Saleh stated, "If you just take half of our 'missed opps' we'd be somewhere in the middle of the pack. I've never seen it as snake-bit as we've been this year."

Although Saleh remains surprised by the 49ers' lack of takeaways in 2018, he expects the team to improve in this important area in 2019.

Turnovers are quite random, and NFL teams' turnover differentials are inconsistent from season to season. This is particularly true for teams at the extreme ends of the turnover spectrum, where the 49ers find themselves in 2018.

After pointing out that turnovers can vary from year to year, a reporter asked Saleh if he expects his defense's luck to improve next season. "There's no doubt. I've never seen it like this before in my life," Saleh responded. "I'm baffled, to be honest with you."

"But it can flip in a hurry," Saleh added.

The San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator has a lot riding on the ball bouncing his way in 2019.

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