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1 area where the defense must improve going into the playoffs

Third downs have not been kind to DeMeco Ryans’ defense

If this defense had one area of concern heading into the playoffs, many fans would point to the play of Deommodore Lenoir as their biggest source of stress. On today’s Bully Ball podcast, however, Steph Sanchez said there’s a bigger problem hiding in plain sight for this defense in the playoffs.

“I’m not concerned, too much, about the performance of one individual player. As a whole defensive unit, though, I would like to see third down conversion percentage improved. That’s been an issue all season. That’s an entire unit issue, not just one individual player.

In the last three games, it’s been worse. They’ve allowed opponents to convert 45% of their third downs. That’s fourth worst in that span, so they’ve got to get that cleaned up. Plus they’ve got to limit the explosive [plays].

I think that can get worked out, but I’m a little more concerned about not getting off the field on third down. In the playoffs that can kind of snowball and that’s a situation that you don’t want to get in when that really starts to pile up.

DeMeco knows what he has to do. I think this defense is full of veterans that know what needs to be done, so I’m hopeful that they get it worked out.”

On the year, the 49ers' defense allowed opponents to convert third downs 39% of the time, which was 16th in the NFL. We have seen third downs become an issue in the four games the 49ers lost this season. The Bears, Broncos, Falcons, and Chiefs collectively converted 46% of the time on third down. For context, that would rank as the second-worst mark in the NFL.

In regards to the explosive plays that Steph mentioned, there’s room for improvement there, too. The Niners have given up six pass plays of at least 50 yards this season. That number is tied with the Packers for the most in the NFL - and it’s also more than San Francisco has allowed in the last two seasons combined. As Jason Aponte wrote yesterday, this year’s defense sacrificed yards in the name of turnovers.

Now that the postseason is here, the 49ers will be facing the best offenses and protectors of the football in the league. They’re more than likely going to have to get better at getting opposing teams off the field without relying on interceptions and fumbles if they’re going to make a deep playoff run.

Other topics in today’s show

Are you happy the Niners are facing the Seahawks instead of the Packers? (1:04)

Did the NFL do the 49ers any favors with their playoff scheduling? (3:03)

Kyle Shanahan destroyed all the narratives about him this year (7:45)

The secondary could be a problem in the playoffs (11:20)

One fatal flaw in this defense (13:58)

The defense has given up more yards for the sake of more turnovers (15:29)

Everyone wants DeMeco Ryans (18:10)

They also want Adam Peters (25:18)

John Lynch should be Executive of the Year (28:42)

Is this season a disappointment without a Super Bowl? (32:47)

Score prediction for the game this weekend (40:08)