Podcast: 49ers Mini-Camp & The Football Movie Draft →
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Young on 49ers defense: ‘The pass rush is not nearly what it was a couple of years ago’

Marc Adams
Sep 30, 2021 at 11:25 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers defense has not started off the new season as strongly as many believed it would. Comparisons between this 2021 defense and the 2019 defense were made in the offseason, training camp and preseason. Although few believed this defense could be as dominant as the 2019 defense was, most still believed this defense would compare well, and could harass opposing quarterbacks the way the 2019 squad did.

But so far, the 2021 49ers defense has not lived up to its billing. The defense has been up and down. Dominant one drive...dormant the next. It has given up some big pass plays, and been gashed in the run game, at times. But it also has two goal-line stands in the last two games. Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde.

On Wednesday, former 49ers quarterback Steve Young joined Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks on KNBR. Speaking on the team, as a whole, Young said, "This team is not what it was two years ago, right now. We gotta figure out how to get there. Defensively, the pass rush is not nearly what it was a couple of years ago."

The numbers back up what Young is saying so far. In 2019, the defensive front put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. That season's defense averaged three sacks per game (compared to the 2021 team, which is averaging two sacks per game). Though it isn't a huge drop-off in the way of sacks (compared to 2019), what can't be seen on a stats sheet is that the 2019 pass rush was relentless. Even when it wasn't getting to the quarterback, it was still pressuring him. The current squad isn't pressuring the quarterback at the same rate.

Young said one big difference is that, two years ago, the 49ers had a "stiff inside" of the defensive line and an "explosive outside." He said they are now getting handled on one side, and the interior is not as strong. As you know, the team traded away DeForest Buckner after the 2019 season. It replaced him with Javon Kinlaw, who is still learning to be an NFL player and has battled some injuries.

When you compare the statistics of the team's defense for the past three seasons (see below), the current team even has trouble measuring up to the 2020 team that was ravaged by injuries. But that team had Jason Verrett at cornerback. This team does not. The loss of Verrett will be felt all season, as the current defense does not have a number one corner who can lock up the other team's top wide receiver.

The 2021 defense is allowing more points so far than either of the previous two defenses. It is allowing (less than one point) more than last season, but five points more than 2019. You'll recall the 49ers lost to the Packers by only two points Sunday night. So, in this case, the five points would have made a large difference. And differences like this, whether large or small, add up in the course of a season. One loss can quickly become four, and cost you a shot at the postseason.

Additionally, the 2021 defense is allowing almost 81 yards more per game than the 2019 defense. This is especially seen in the passing yards allowed, where this year's team is allowing almost 80 yards more through the air than in 2019. Not to beat a dead horse, but...

One of the bigger issues, so far, is that both the 2019 and 2020 teams averaged more than one takeaway per game. The 2021 defense has one takeaway through three games. Again, when you lose by two (courtesy of a last-second field goal), one takeaway could have made the difference.

There was really no reason to think this year's defense would compare to the 2019 defense, one of the best in team history. But one would think the 49ers' 2021 defense would be better than the 2020 defense. After all, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have returned. But the 49ers cornerbacks are not as good as the corners from 2020. Have I mentioned that losing Verrett really hurts?

Add to the mix a rookie defensive coordinator. DeMeco Ryans is the new man in charge, replacing Robert Saleh. Ryans is still learning. It took Saleh a season or two to grow into the coordinator that he became. It will (no doubt) take Ryans a bit, as well.

Speaking of defensive play-calling, Young did not like how the defense approached the last two plays on Sunday night, with only 37 seconds left. He felt the first play was just an amazing throw by Aaron Rodgers. Fred Warner barely missed knocking it down. It was a perfect throw by Rodgers. The second play, though, bothered Young.

"The defense, especially on the second play, when you know you cannot let him into field-goal range, you can't have it," said Young. "So the idea that you're just gonna play off…he's certainly not throwing for the end zone. You don't need to guard the goal line. You gotta guard for the next seven to eight yards because that's the difference in this ballgame."

It doesn't get any easier. Next up is Russell Wilson. Maybe this will be the week the 2021 defense comes to life.

Team Defense Numbers for the past three seasons

Points allowed/game: 19.4
Touchdowns surrender/game: 2.3
Third down efficiency: 33.3%
Total yards surrendered per game: 304.8
Passing yards allowed/game: 169.2
Passing yards allowed/attempt: 5.9
Rushing yards allowed/game: 112.6
Rushing yards allowed/rush: 4.5
Sacks/game: 3
Takeaways/game: 1.5
Penalty yards/game: 59.8

Points allowed/game: 24.4
Touchdowns surrender/game: 2.6
Third down efficiency: 35.50
Total yards surrendered per game: 326.8
Passing yards allowed/game: 207.9
Passing yards allowed/attempt: 6.6
Rushing yards allowed/game: 106.4
Rushing yards allowed/rush: 4.0
Sacks/game: 1.9
Takeaways/game: 1.25
Penalty yards/game: 44.3

Points allowed/game: 24.7
Touchdowns surrender/game: 2.7
Third down efficiency: 36.84
Total yards surrendered per game: 385.3
Passing yards allowed/game: 248.0
Passing yards allowed/attempt: 6.9
Rushing yards allowed/game: 122.3
Rushing yards allowed/rush: 4.7
Sacks/game: 2.0
Takeaways/game: 0.33
Penalty yards/game: 63
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • No Comments


Facebook Comments

More San Francisco 49ers News

Arik Armstead talks Steve Wilks, Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, and 49ers' QB situation

By David Bonilla
May 30

Arik Armstead is looking forward to the upcoming season. There is a lot to look forward to. His San Francisco 49ers have been to the NFC Championship Game three times over the past four seasons. They once again have a competitive roster and look to make another run at a Super Bowl championship. Armstead joined Adam Schefter on the ESPN insider's podcast, discussing several 49ers-related topics. New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks Steve Wilks replaces DeMeco Ryans as defensive coordinator. Armstead had nothing but praise for his former coordinator, who left to be the Houston Texans' head coach, but looks forward to working with Wilks. Wilks isn't expected to make any drastic changes in his first season helming the 49ers defense.

49ers' Nick Bosa focused on building legacy, reaching Canton, says Steve Wilks

By David Bonilla
8 hrs

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa has already earned the coveted NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, three years after being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. According to new 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, the talented pass rusher has his eyes set on more significant achievements. Wilks believes Bosa is among the few who are completely dedicated to their craft and trying to get better every day, comparing the 49ers defender to players like Luke Kuechly and Brian Urlacher. "And all those guys that I just mentioned, along with Bosa, is about really trying to create a legacy," Wilks said on Wednesday. "And that was probably one of the things that I did talk about, beyond just him as a person. It's just What are we building

Everything Steve Wilks said at 49ers minicamp

By Site Staff
6 hrs

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks spoke with reporters after Wednesday's minicamp practice. Here is everything he had to say. Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers Communications staff. Opening Comments: "Mini-camp was great. It was good to get everybody in house. [DL Nick] Bosa was here. [DL Javon] Hargrave was here. And I thought we made progress throughout OTAs and it was a great finish today with mini-camp, so I know you guys have a lot of questions, and with that I'll open up the floor." CB Charvarius Ward didn't take part in any of the 11-on-11 stuff, but that gave you an opportunity to look at some other younger cornerbacks out there. How do you sort of assess that

5 young players the 49ers need to come up big in 2023

By Marc Adams
Jun 5

Everyone says it, so it must be true. The San Francisco 49ers have a loaded roster. Stacked. Deep. Super-Bowl caliber. However you choose to describe it, we can all agree that the roster is very good. They have Pro Bowlers all over the field. But there are some spots that will be filled by young players in 2023. And these young men will be asked to step up this season, in order for the 49ers to have the chance to win the Super Bowl. Here are five young players who need to come up big in 2023: 1. Drake Jackson, Edge Rusher The 49ers built their defense in 2019 around a dominant pass rush. That season, they had a player opposite of Nick Bosa (Dee Ford) who provided a lot of pressure off the edge. Since then, however, they have been unable to


Trending News

Share 49ersWebzone