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Nick Bellore made plays, but underlying numbers are not good

Nick Bellore did what he could in place of NaVorro Bowman.

The San Francisco 49ers run defense took a beating on Thursday, giving up 157 yards to Cardinals running back David Johnson. The unit lost linebacker NaVorro Bowman to a torn Achilles, and was down to a starting duo of Michael Wilhoite and Nick Bellore. While Wilhoite has extensive starting experience dating back to 2014, Bellore was making his first start after a career built as a special teamer.

Bellore had some strong moments in the game. He led the team with 11 tackles, and had five stops (per PFF, preventing enough yardage for a player to be considered a “success”), with two tackles for a loss. Additionally, he and Michael Wilhoite split a sack, marking the first 0.5 sack of each player’s career.

Unfortunately, that only tells half the story. Bellore had five stops, but according to Pro Football Focus, he also had five of the 49ers seven missed tackles. And that most definitely does not tell the full tale. Here is a play in which Bellore is not dinged for a missed tackle, but did show the kind of hesitation that we probably should have expected when Bellore replaced Bowman in the 49ers lineup.

PFF has their preliminary grades in. Their grades for Bellore included a 67.1 overall, 67.7 pass rush, 80.8 coverage, and 38.0 vs. run. For comparison, Michael Wilhoite had two stops and no missed tackles, with grades of 31.7 overall, 19.6 vs. run, 71.3 pass rush, 75.4 coverage. It’s nice to see some improved coverage grades, but the run defense suffered in a huge way.

I realize that Nick Bellore is not NaVorro Bowman. The drop-off was to be expected, and some might say it is unfair to pile on Bellore, who likely did the best he could. None of that makes this any less frustrating. Bellore is certainly going to give it his all, but hopefully the flashier stats will not fool anybody. If he starts the rest of the season, there’s a decent chance he could finish the season leading the team in tackles. But there’s a reason he has spent most of his career primarily on special teams.

Bellore spoke to the media after the game to discuss the loss. This is likely a partial transcript.

It seems like getting guys lined up looked pretty good.

“Yes. I did it sparingly during the preseason, but we drill it all day in practice. So it is something that I am used to doing for my whole football career. That is the easy part, then we just have to execute. Everybody will tell you that we didn’t play our best balltonight. We just have to make the plays that we know that we can make. We have to play within ourselves and we will be fine.”

Is it difficult to be in your role with a short week?

“Everyone needs to play on a short week. Obviously this is my first start. We were prepared for the game. I thought we did a great job in meetings. We made great use of walk-thrus. You don’t have the physicality just because it is such a short week and you have to get your body back. I thought we did a great job of focusing. We just have to execute better on game day. We are set up to win, we just have to go out and make the plays.”

How do you think the team is? How do you think you guys are surviving this rough spot?

“This team is unwavering. We come to work every day. The whole team will be in here tomorrow. We are off for the weekend but guys will be in here the entire time. This is not something that we are okay with. We have to get it corrected, whatever that takes we have to do it. There is no second guessing. We just have to execute and do what we are coached to do when the time comes to play. If we do that we will be fine.”

Was it more of what Arizona Cardinals QB Drew Stanton was doing or more of what the defense was doing?

“It is tough to tell you have to look at the tape. Once we review that, I think that there was a lot of stuff that they did a great job offensively. There was a lot of things that we could have done better defensively. We can get it corrected. The encouraging thing is that it is all correctable. It is nothing that we cannot fix. We just have to execute it, when it is time to play.”