Before the season, Pro Football Focus ranked the 49ers’ defensive front-seven as the worst in the NFL. Why not? They were historically bad last year.
Then, Week 2 happened. The Niners sacked Russell Wilson three times and were living in the backfield, shutting down running lanes (six tackles-for-loss) and collapsing the pocket shortly after the snap.
The performance inspired some hope for the future — even if Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay ensured it as short-lived by eviscerating the 49ers on Thursday Night Football last week.
The Niners have three sacks all season.
With those two outings coming in rapid succession (maybe the defensive coordinator gets a pass for his unit struggling on a short week?), the question becomes: Was the game in Seattle anything more than an aberration from the norm against a wretched Seahawks O-line?
This week should provide the clearest answer to that question we’ll have until Reuben Foster returns from injury. (The rookie linebacker won’t be back today against the Arizona Cardinals, but he started running recently. He will make the trip, but won’t suit up as his high ankle sprain will take more time to heal.)
The Cards offensive line has allowed 11 sacks — fourth-most in the league — and Carson Palmer has been hit (27) more than any other quarterback. Last week, the Dallas Cowboys beat up on the veteran signal caller, swinging the game in their favor. They did it without blitzing or overloading the box, something Saleh has been hesitant to do this season.
“Dallas got after him with three [pass rushers] last week,” Saleh said. “Is that the answer? I don’t know.”
The first-year defensive coordinator wouldn’t tip his hand for how the 49ers will attack the Arizona front. But, even with all of the injuries Saleh’s group has endured, the Cardinals’ plight is worse.
Former Niners Mike Iupati and Alex Boone are out, and the former will likely need surgery for an elbow injury. D.J. Humphries is also questionable. That means there are going to be a lot of inexperienced player on the offensive line.
It also means the 49ers don’t have any excuses if they can’t dominate up front.
DeForest Buckner has been great all season, earning himself the third-best grade of interior d-lineman available from PFF. It’s time for Arik Armstead to match that production and for Earl Mitchell and Solomon Thomas to justify the number of reps they’re receiving.
The Niners can’t let losing Tank Carradine to the injured reserve be a major blow to their long-term success, which — as they really want us to know — is built “brick-by-brick.”
Well, putting Palmer on his behind and claiming a winnable road contest would be a worthy foundation to start the rebuild. Draft position be damned. Because while it’s good to keep that position and prioritize the future, head coach Kyle Shanahan can’t allow the locker room to be poisoned against what they’re trying to do here.
Winning seven games would be a mistake, because it would hurt their ability to draft a potential franchise-changing player. But losing 14 again will only spoil another group of players, some of whom need to figure into the long-term plans.
“We didn’t play well enough on defense at all,” Saleh said about his team’s performance against the Rams. “I do have great faith in the defense and I cannot wait, I cannot wait for Sunday to see what we’re made of.”
Because if they can’t impose their will and prove the Seattle game wasn’t a fluke, it’ll be clear they still aren’t made of much.
Hyde will be a gametime decision
Carlos Hyde didn’t miss much time against the Los Angeles Rams after hurting his hip. But the injury has lingered, and he’ll be a gametime decision today against the Arizona Cardinals. Through three weeks, he’s the third-leading rusher in the NFL. Hyde is officially listed as questionable. Joining him is Brock Coyle (concussion), Kyle Juszczyk (concussion), Jaquiski Tartt (concussion), and Pita Taumoepenu (ankle). Reuben Foster and Eric Reid are out.
National anthem plan
Head coach Kyle Shanahan hasn’t revealed what the 49ers’ plan is during the playing of the national anthem today: “I think everyone in the league got their opportunity to show what they wanted to show last Sunday. Our players haven’t so we definitely want to give them that opportunity,” Shanahan said on Friday. “… I’m anticipating that they just want to show their support for, really, everyone in this country.”
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at email@example.com or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.