There will be plenty of chatter about Colin Kaepernick’s performance against the Buffalo Bills, but the real story is the 49ers run defense. The unit lost NaVorro Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong in the middle, but the issues were already developing with the unit. After shutting down the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1 (65 yards, 2.8 ypc), the 49ers have given up at least 100 yards to a running back in five straight weeks. The numbers below show the problems this group has had:
vs. Bills: 312 yards, 7.1 ypc
vs. Cardinals: 172 yards, 4.6 ypc
vs. Cowboys: 194 yards, 5.0 ypc
vs. Seahawks: 127 yards, 4.1
vs. Panthers: 176 yards, 4.8
The 49ers performance against the Bills was particularly historic in a very bad way.
#49ers allowed 312 rushing yards, their most since 11-9-58 (324).— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) October 16, 2016
It is a fitting coincidence that this performance came against the Buffalo Bills. Back in 2012, the 49ers rushed for 311 yards in a 45-3 win. It is fitting then that they reverse that in giving up 312 yards in a 45-16 loss to the Bills.
Part of the problem is injuries. Losing Bowman and Armstrong is tough. But, there is also a talent issue at play. You can’t have crazy depth all the way down, but the bottom of the 49ers roster is significantly worse than it was during the team’s strong run earlier this decade. Nick Bellore and Michael Wilhoite will give plenty of effort, but their respective ceilings are incredibly low. And in light of Bowman’s injury and all the other players hitting free agency, the team is going to have invest a fairly high pick in some depth at the position.
It’s pretty easy to figure out what is next for the rest of this season. We won’t see teams rushing for 300+ yards every week, but teams know they will find success on the ground. The team is going to have issues in several areas, but it is safe to predict the run defense will be what gets this team at or near the top of the 2017 NFL Draft.