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49ers cornerbacks do solid work without starters

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The San Francisco 49ers were short-handed on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, with two starters and a reserve inactive with injuries. We break down the strong work of the remaining cornerbacks in Week 9.

The San Francisco 49ers defense gave up a large number of passing yards on Sunday to the Atlanta Falcons, but the work of the cornerbacks deserves serious kudos. Julio Jones finished the game with 10 receptions for 137 yards, but according to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers cornerbacks did a strong job in coverage.

PFF provided a look at coverages grades and numbers given up by the starting trio of Dontae Johnson, Marcus Cromartie and nickel back Jimmie Ward. They broke up as follows:

Johnson: +0.2 coverage grade (4 receptions on 7 targets, 50 yards)
Cromartie: +1.1 coverage grade (3 receptions on 5 targets, 33 yards)
Ward: +0.9 coverage grade (6 receptions on 9 targets, 36 yards)

David Neumann will be back with more detailed analysis of Johnson's performance, and next week he'll be looking at what the starting corners have done to date. But for now, this provides some numbers that back up the eye test. The 49ers gave up a lot of passing yards to the Falcons, with Julio Jones leading the way, but it would appear it was the linebackers and safeties giving up the bulk of them. The best example would be Jones' 54-yard reception late in the second quarter. NaVorro Bowman was deep in zone coverage, and Jones went up over him and Jaquiski Tartt to make the catch.

The 49ers have a bye week to get their cornerbacks back to 100 percent. Kenneth Acker was inactive due to his concussion, Tramaine Brock due to a shin issue, and Keith Reaser due to an ankle problem. Acker seems the most likely to return to full practice soonest, but concussions obviously can be tricky. Whatever the case, the 49ers should be closer to 100 percent in the secondary next week.

The question becomes, what happens with Johnson in particular following a solid outing? He had a strong outing in Week 3, but then was handling exclusively special teams work in Weeks 4 through 7. He got back into the defensive rotation in Week 8 due to the various injuries, and then started this week because of those same injuries. Is it enough to justify a bit more of a role in Week 11 against the Seahawks? Or will the Seahawks ground-based rushing attack mean fewer cornerbacks on the field, and thus fewer opportunities for Johnson?