No team has been flagged more than the San Francisco 49ers this season when it comes to defensive pass interference. According to NFLpenalties.com, the Niners have 11 pass interference calls and have lost 250 yards this season. That doesn’t count the three that have been declined. In addition, seven teams this season have not been flagged for more than two defensive pass interferences this season.
On Thursday, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans addressed what the coaching points are to put a halt to the penalties down the field:
It’s always about just, with the DBs, being in a proper position to start. I think most times guys panic when they’re not in position, we call it in phase or out of phase. When you’re in phase with the wide receiver or tight end running a route and if you’re in phase and you’re comfortable, you can look up for the ball. If you’re out of phase, sometimes guys panic and just reach out for the guy but still understand you have time to catch up and just play through the hands, play hands to hands, when you’re not in position when that guy’s in front of you and you’re behind him, you just have to play through the hands and finished at the catch point.”
“In phase” means the defensive back is stride for stride with the wide receiver and is in a position to look back for the ball. When you’re not in phase, you’re usually playing catch up and have to worry about getting closer to the wide receiver and finding the ball at the same time.
That’s what happened with Jaquiski Tartt last week. It’s challenging to play the ball and the man when you’re trailing, and that’s how most pass interference calls happen.
If the 49ers caught the passes that Carson Wentz threw directly to them, I doubt there’d be this much focus on the penalties. You can’t ignore them, but Ryans said, “I think we had our opportunities on Sunday to create turnovers. We were able to get two, had opportunities for a few more. If a ball hit us in the hand, we have to catch it. So, we had our opportunities for at least at least four turnovers there. We just have to capitalize when the ball is thrown to us, we have to make them pay.”
That’s the bigger issue than the penalties. The secondary isn’t making plays on the passes they should. Emmanuel Moseley had two passes hit him in the hands while Josh Norman had one. Neither defensive back caught the ball. Two out of those three drives ended in points.
So, will there be a change? Ryans was asked about an update on where rookies Deommodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas are in their development and what he wants to see out of each of the defensive backs in practice this week:
“Yeah, I think for our DBs, everybody has seen and heard about the defensive pass interferences and that definitely has hurt us. We gave up over close to 100 yards in penalties and we can’t do that. We can’t beat ourselves from that standpoint. We have to play smarter, we have to play better. So, we’ve been working with those guys all week, just putting them in those positions as often as we can. Putting them in positions, so they’re confident and they’re comfortable to go out and make a play in the game. And [defensive passing game specialist/secondary coach] Cory [Undlin] has done a great job of working with those guys all week and we expect them to be better as we go out on Sunday.”
Ryans is a master at answering questions without answering them. To me, not addressing Lenoir or Thomas means the team isn’t confident enough to play either. Both rookies were healthy scratches last week against the Colts.
One rookie is poised to make his starting debut. Talano Hufanga will start in place of the injured Tartt. Ryans was asked about Hufanga’s development:
“Yeah, Huf has done a great job and I’m trying to get him more opportunities to get out on the field. I think he really takes advantage of the times that he has ops and he’s out there on the field. You see, just like he was in college, he can create some plays for us. And I’m excited to where he is and trying to get him out on the field, even more. I think he can be a spark for us the way he competes, the way he works, smart player. I just love his intensity on and off the field, in the classroom. He does a really good job. He does things the right way, so I’m excited to see how he progresses.”
Ryans talked about Hufanaga having the right mentality and belief, saying, “if you have the mentality, you believe in yourself that you can go out and compete against anybody, you can make a play, you’ll make plays.”
One of the biggest issues for Jimmie Ward and Tartt has been the lack of playmaking they bring to the table. However, Hufanaga has a chance to change that Sunday.