The 49ers are in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the NFC after Week 15. They’ll host the Baltimore Ravens next Monday night and are favored to win. Everything is breaking in the right direction for the Niners with three games to go.
But there’s a tackling problem that showed up during the 49ers three-game losing streak, and it’s reared its ugly head during these previous three games.
Against the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers defense missed 16 tackles, per PFF. Nine different players missed a tackle. And this wasn’t just limited to the Cardinals game. During the previous two games, the defense missed 14 and 12 tackles. These results have directly led to either poor run defense, big plays, the opposing offense scoring points, or all of the above.
Missing your starting defensive tackles contributed to the poor run defense. Kalia Davis sustaining a high-ankle sprain during the game only put more pressure on a thin depth chart at defensive tackle. But Kyle Shanahan explained the reason for the missed tackles from his perspective:
“I definitely think it hurt. I think all the factors went into it. One, having those guys out. Two, the amount of plays they got, especially there in the first half. Losing Kalia during the game, which really got those guys tired out towards the end. Especially when they stayed on the field on a couple third downs, just especially those last couple drives.
I thought the biggest thing was the missed tackles. They bounced off a couple. Then mainly just our tracking angles on a number of plays, just running to the ball. We over pursued a couple things and opened up the cutback, which gave them some big ones. Usually when you give up those yards you’re expecting a lot of schematic busts and stuff, especially with the running quarterback. So, I thought that didn’t hurt us as bad as you’d expect, but we’ve got to clean up all those tackles and got to try to get our depth back too.”
Randy Gregory missed two tackles. T.Y. McGill played 29 snaps and missed three tackles. Dee Winters played 12 snaps and missed a tackle. As you go down the list, there are players who usually play sparingly or don’t play at all who were the main culprits.
So, to Shanahan’s final point, getting the original depth chart back would help. But that doesn’t excuse Fred Warner’s three missed tackles or Tashaun Gipson’s two. Both starting cornerbacks and Dre Greenlaw missed a tackle, too.
It’s not the same situation as the 3-game losing streak when the 49ers defense appeared to be running out of gas. As Shanahan said, Sunday was more about poor angles and doing unsound things like leaving your feet to make a tackle.
The good news is most of the issues are easily fixable for the 49ers. But it won’t get any easier against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens next week.