If the San Francisco 49ers entered its bye week at the right time, reeling from a three-game losing streak, then the Jacksonville Jaguars Week 9 bye came at the worst possible time. After a 1-2 start, Jacksonville has won five in a row with wins over the Bills and, most recently, Pittsburgh, to waltz into its bye week at 6-2 and atop the AFC South.
The 49ers were busy on its bye week, with Chase Young making his 49ers debut after being acquired at last week’s trade deadline. Young will give a much-needed boost to a defense with so many questions that defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has to get closer to the field to find the answers.
Maybe Young will help solve the 49ers’ issues with sacking the quarterback, but on Sunday, collecting pressures might be enough:
Interceptions. Trevor Lawrence has thrown three of his four interceptions this season while under pressure, tied for sixth-most.
Until either A. the 49ers defense starts collecting sacks or B. Steve Wilks’ secondary starts playing tighter coverage, the pressure numbers will be something to note, especially against the run of quarterbacks the defense has faced.
The previous two quarterbacks San Francisco has faced - Kirk Cousins and Joe Burrow - ranked among the league’s best while under pressure in the top ten of completion percentage, passer rating, and touchdowns. While the 49ers couldn’t sack Cousins a couple of weeks ago, the pass rush got to Burrow three times, but it didn’t seem to affect Burrow, who was able to shrug off 24 pressures to throw for three touchdowns.
While Cousins and Burrow have been good under pressure, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence has had his fair share of issues. Lawrence has had the third-lowest percentage of dropbacks under pressure this season, facing pressure on 29.4 percent of pass plays.
As with all quarterbacks, there’s a drop-off for Lawrence when under pressure compared to when he can stand clean, but it’s a severe drop. He sees a 30 percent dropoff in completion percentage when clean compared to under press and a 35-point decline in passer rating, but the interceptions could be where the 49ers take advantage.
If the 49ers can’t complete sacks like it’s struggled to do in recent weeks, maybe the pressure on Lawrence forces mistakes that weren’t being caused against Cousins and Burrow. Perhaps all it’ll take is to rattle a young quarterback prone to mistakes while under pressure for all the 49ers’ defensive woes to turn around.
Turnover percentage. The Jaguars’ defense has forced a turnover on 17.9 percent of its drives, the best in the league.
That might not have been an issue for the 49ers over the first five weeks of the season, but it could be cause for concern in its recent form. Through the first five games, the 49ers’ offense turned the ball over just twice - a Brock Purdy fumble against Pittsburgh and a Christian McCaffrey fumble against Dallas - which helped the offense average 33.4 points over the span.
Over its last three games, the 49ers have turned the ball over seven times, leading to three consecutive games where the offense could only muster 17 in each game.
Another cause for concern is the five games where the offense had a turnover; the 49ers faced a defense ranking in the top half of the league in turnover percentage, with Cleveland as the worst, ranked 13th in the league.
Who were the 49ers’ opponents in the three games where the offense didn’t turn the ball over once? The Rams, Cardinals, and Giants. They rank 28th, 29th, and 30th in turnover percentage and are three of 10 teams who force a turnover on less than 10 percent of their drives.
The turnovers have come all over the field for Jacksonville, with seven different defenders forcing a fumble and seven different players with at least one interception. Darious Williams and Andre Cisco lead the way with three interceptions, while Williams and Josh Allen are tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles. Both of Allen’s forced fumbles were also part of his nine sacks this season, tied with Khalil Mack for fifth-most in the league.
Rushing yards per game. The Jaguars defense has allowed only 79.3 rushing yards per game, third-best in the league.
Oh yeah, Jacksonville’s defense is also pretty good against the run. Only three times this season has Jacksonville allowed more than 100 rushing yards with as many performances where it allowed fewer than 70 rushing yards, including holding the Bills to only 29 rushing yards on 14 attempts in the Jaguars’ 25-20 Week 6 win.
To add a 49ers player to add context, Christian McCaffrey still leads the league with 652 rushing yards. The Jaguars’ defense has allowed 634 rushing yards, one of three teams to allow fewer rushing yards than McCaffrey has gained so far this season (Philadelphia and Detroit are the other two).
The 49ers have failed to rush for more than 120 yards as a team in its last three games after rushing for at least 120 yards in each of the first five games this season. The last time the 49ers had gone at least three consecutive games without rushing for 120 or more yards was Weeks 6-8 last season, where San Francisco went 1-2 and acquired McCaffrey in the middle of the stretch.
It’s a run game that’s struggled behind McCaffrey - Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason combined for 25 yards on 11 carries, with Mason responsible for 27 of those yards on five carries over the last three games - but with the return of part-time receiver/part-time running back Deebo Samuel and left tackle Trent Williams, the 49ers run game should be back to full strength against a formidable foe.