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Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

49ers not blaming defensive injuries for loss to Falcons

Oct 16, 2022 at 3:05 PM--

It's tempting to point at the fact the 49ers were without over half of their starters on defense as the main reason they fell 28-14 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, but the team wasn't interested in going that route following the game.

The 49ers were without defensive linemen Nick Bosa (groin), Javon Kinlaw (knee), and Arik Armstead (foot), as well as linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (knee), safety Jimmie Ward (hand), and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (knee). On top of that, cornerback Charvarius Ward left the game due to a groin injury. There's no question those absences made a difference, but the 49ers cited a number of other reasons for their loss, starting with missed opportunities on both sides of the ball to set the game on a different path.

"I think we had our chances to overcome," head coach Kyle Shanahan said Sunday. "We made it harder on ourselves. I'm not taking anything away from them. Yeah, that's a big deal missing those people, but we had every chance to still pull that off."

The 49ers needed to step up on offense due to the defense having so many players sidelined, but their performance turned out to be inconsistent throughout the game. There were two touchdown drives produced by the offense along with 346 total yards and 21 first downs, but there were also three turnovers and some costly dropped passes and penalties.

"I thought we had opportunities all day," quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. "I thought we had a lot of opportunities. We just didn't take advantage of them. It was self-inflicted wounds really. Guys making mistakes, and it wasn't just one guy or one position. It starts with myself, and I think we just kind of one after another kept making mistakes. When you do that, it adds up to a game like this."

On defense the 49ers had difficulty stopping the Falcons on the ground, allowing 168 yards on 40 carries. The Falcons were also able to dominate time of possession (33:25 to 26:35) while converting nine of 14 chances on third downs. Linebacker Fred Warner said the defense knew what the Falcons were going to throw at them but didn't do a good enough job of doing what needed to be done to stop it.

"We knew exactly what they were going to do," Warner said. "That was the challenge for us on defense was to stop the run and to dictate that. But I've got to give them props for dictating the entire game in the run game. We were getting knocked back, me included, and we've just got to be better up front in the front seven."

Warner admitted that he would have preferred to have the defense at full strength, but he also put some blame on himself for the players who were on the field not performing at the level the team expects.

"It does suck," Warner said. "You wish you have your guys out there, but at the same time, I feel like for me, I put a lot of pressure on myself in the fact that I command the defense. I'm the one who should get all eleven lined up at all times regardless of who's out there, and everybody else who's coming into the game, they've got to be ready to go no matter what. It's all about being prepared. Regardless of the circumstance, whoever's out there we've got to make sure we're playing to our standard."

Tight end George Kittle had a different take. While Garoppolo, Shanahan and Warner pointed at execution, Kittle questioned whether or not every player performed at the level of intensity the 49ers call for on every play.

"You could use (injuries) as an excuse but we're the San Francisco 49ers," Kittle said. "We have a standard that we play at. We play at a very high level, a lot of energy, 100 percent effort on every single play. I haven't watched the tape yet, but I don't know that we gave that today at every single position. We had a lot of young guys play. We're missing a lot of guys. We've just got to make sure we're playing at that level every single snap or that's going to happen, especially when you are down guys."

Things will likely get more difficult for the 49ers next Sunday when they host a high-powered offensive team in the Kansas City Chiefs. It's possible they'll be healthier on defense in that game than they were against the Falcons, but they'll still have multiple players who won't be available next Sunday. The 49ers have had more than their share of injuries over the last few seasons and have grown all too familiar with having to make injury-related adjustments, but they'll have to find better results with it than they did against the Falcons to avoid a similar fate against the Chiefs.

"The five years I've been here, this isn't anything new. I've seen it," Warner said. "At some point you've got to adjust and guys have got to be ready to go no matter the situation. We've got to find ways to win regardless of the circumstance."

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