49ers defense leads NFL in most important statistic

Ralph Freso

The 49ers defense has surrendered some rushing yards lately, including three 100 yard rushers. But they are still tops in the most important category.

It's being whispered, maybe even shouted at this point: The 49ers defense hasn't been playing as well lately. There are runs up the middle of the once-vaunted defense that are going for longer gains than ever before. They've allowed three 100 yard rushers in the last four games. And the once-staunch secondary is allowing some big plays in the passing game.

This four-game stretch has ended with the 49ers going 2-1-1, which might as well be 2-2 for most fans, as a tie doesn't feel like a win. Isaac Sopoaga was seen getting bullied by a single blocker on a few occasions last week vs. St. Louis. The sack numbers are way down from the 2011 mark, despite Aldon Smith getting some "gimmies" of-late. And now we see the secondary falling down and letting guys catch long passes.

What's happening? Are things as bad as they seem?

The 49ers are ranked 7th in rushing yards allowed overall, as well as rush yards allowed per game. They're ranked 3rd in total yards allowed and 4th in passing yards allowed. Those aren't bad numbers, even if they are trending downward. But there is one stat that should give us all a reason to breathe a tiny sigh of relief: Points.

The 49ers are first in the NFL in points allowed in 2012, trailed by Chicago, who's allowed six more on the season, then Houston, who's allowed 16 more. San Francisco is allowing just 14.1 points per game, no matter how many yards they're allowing on a given play, series, or game.

You don't win the game on yards accumulated. There is no bonus for any stat in the course of a game. The only thing that truly matters is points.

In fact, out of the last four games that seemed to be showing a "trend" towards regression of the defense, ff we look at the Arizona game, the defense played lights-out. Despite allowing 290 yards passing (a net of 258 after 32 yards on four sacks), they gave-up just seven, SEVEN yards rushing and the key stat: three points.

The Seatle game wasn't bad, either, allowing just six points and only 251 net yards. The point I'm trying ot make is that I think the 49ers had bad games against the Giants and Rams, but in between they put together some nice performances.

This season the 49ers have gone: Win, win, clunker (loss to MN). Win, Win, let-down (Giants). Win, win, TIE after the bye. They're not carrying much momentum, and it's on either side of the ball.

The other consistency in all three (ok, 2.5) losses is teams that didn't give-up trying to run the ball against us. The 49ers need to learn to recover from getting pounded by the running game in doses. In fact, the Giants didn't run the ball successfully against the 49ers until later in the game. They opened throwing the ball far more than running and when they did attempt rushes, they were rarely successful. Most of their rushing yards came with the 49ers tired and being beaten, late in the game.

That's an issue in-and-of-itself, though. There are some seemingly mental issues going on with this team right now. Not being able to string three wins together, not playing well when down early, and giving up yards late when down points. These are things that they must put together in time to make a playoff run and get to the Super Bowl.

The 49ers had the momentum all year in 2011. This season they're back down to Earth a bit, and they need to learn how to adjust to playing without all of the breaks they got last year. In the meantime though, at least we can hang our hats on being first in points, which means more wins than losses. Sometimes surviving the regular season is the most important thing. We've seen teams like the Giants themselves have a "meh" season and then get hot in the playoffs.

Allowing as few points as possible will go a long way towards that "survival".

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