The San Francisco 49ers face the Denver Broncos this week in their first of three consecutive home games at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Seahawks while the Broncos notched their sixth win of the season Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Coach Kyle Shanahan, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and quarterback Nick Mullens all spoke with the media throughout Week 14. Here’s some of their notable quotes:
Beating the Broncos
Shanahan was asked what challenges the Broncos presented the 49ers this week:
“It’s very similar to last week. They’re running the ball extremely well. They’re getting sacks on defense and they’re getting turnovers. So, that’s a very good winning formula. You look at our game last week, we lost turnovers three to zero. I think we had three yards a carry, I think they had six. You look at those three stats, it’s very tough to win.
Losing the turnover battle has been commonplace for the 49ers throughout the season, who have given up a whopping 25 turnovers while only creating five. Their -20 turnover differential ranks the 49ers dead last in the NFL. Denver’s differential of eight ranks seventh.
“Now we’re playing a team that’s very similar to that, a team that likes to rush the quarterback, a team that gets turnovers and a team who runs the ball. So, it’s not the exact same as Seattle, but those methods on how they’ve been winning is.”
After two games of keeping Mullens clean, the 49ers’ offensive line has given up seven sacks over the last two games. Keeping the former third-string quarterback upright will be paramount against a Bronco’s pass rush ranking fifth in the NFL with 37 total sacks. The 49ers rank 20th with 29.
Arik Armstead’s solid season
Saleh spoke to the media on Thursday and was asked about Armstead’s development as he progresses through his most productive season of his four-year career:
“To me, Arik’s been playing at a very high level. It may not always show up on the stat sheet in terms of pass game and all that stuff. But, when you watch Arik in the run game, he’s a very dominant football player.
Armstead has started all 13 games for the 49ers this season, a personal best. The 49ers’ first-round pick in 2015 has racked up 36 tackles, six tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits and three sacks so far in 2018. Armstead currently holds an “above average” grade of 78.6 from Pro Football Focus as their 19th-ranked edge defender.
“People who watch tape, and study our defense and watch it, 91 just pops off the tape. He’s doing a great job. The difference being he’s creating all that knock-back and he still has the athleticism to still do the things that we need him to do. Very, very happy with Arik and the direction he’s going, especially from a physicality standpoint. Knock on wood, he’s been healthy and if he can keep that trajectory, he’s going to have a very, very long career.”
The 49ers elected to pick up Armstead’s fifth-year option in the offseason, guaranteeing him a little over $9 million in 2019 if he remains on the roster in May. After two consecutive seasons cut short by injuries to both his shoulder and hand, Armstead’s emergence has been a positive development for the 49ers. He’s a candidate for a modest contract extension if the 49ers wish to soften the blow of his salary in 2019.
Robert Saleh preaches patience
Saleh also had some interesting comments when asked about the defense’s struggles throughout 2018:
“The best way I can say this, and I say this with a tremendous amount of respect to all of you sitting in front of me, the first time you wrote an article as a beat writer, it wasn’t perfect. You did it again and again and again, and now all of you sit here and you guys are the best at what you do because you’ve had many, many reps and you’ve had many, many opportunities to do it. It’s the same thing for these football players.”
The 49ers’ roster as a whole ranks 10th in the NFL with an average age of 25.8 in 2018. Seven of the 49ers’ 11 starters on defense are still on their rookie contracts. The lack of experience and time in the system are both contributing factors to the 49ers’ defensive struggles in 2018. A young defense certainly doesn’t absolve Saleh of responsibility, but adds context to a complicated situation.
“They’re young, they’re here, they’re getting their reps and everything is new. They’re learning something new every single week. Some take longer. Guys are going to continue to get better and we’re going to have a defense that’s going to be a problem very soon.”
In addition to youth, Saleh’s unit has been ravaged by injury and circumstance. Linebacker Reuben Foster was released in Week 12 after his second domestic violence arrest, while free safety Adrian Colbert and defensive back Jimmie Ward were both lost to season-ending injuries. The 49ers’ defense is also missing some key ingredients, most notably an effective pass rush off the edges of the defensive front.
Nick Mullens talks Seattle
The 49ers’ quarterback took to the podium Wednesday, recalling his turbulent performance against the Seahawks in Week 13:
“I think there’s a lot to improve on. We moved the ball pretty well as a unit, but there were certain points in the game where we didn’t capitalize. I thought if we could have, it would have made the game a lot closer than it was. So, just got to keep building, keep improving, personally, sticking to my progressions and staying strong in the pocket.”
Mullens threw a whopping 48 passes against the Seahawks, completing 30 for 414 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 95.3. His insane numbers were tarnished by a 98-yard pick six thrown to Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and a fumbled a two=point conversion, both in the fourth quarter.
“Just got to go back to work this week. We know we have potential. We know we can be a good offense. We’ve just got to work to go do it.”