Nin­ers’ pass-rush no help in turnovers

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTING GREEN - By Eric Branch

In their past two games, the 49ers have had the ball, trail­ing by two points, late in the fourth quar­ter.

On each oc­ca­sion, their po­ten­tial game-win­ning drive ended due to a turnover caused by pres­sure on quar­ter­back C.J. Beathard.

In Week 4, Charg­ers safety Der­win James drilled Beathard, caus­ing the pass to float to de­fen­sive end Isaac Rochell for an in­ter­cep­tion. Last Sun­day, Beathard was stripped by Car­di­nals line­backer Haa­son Red­dick and the fum­ble was re­turned 23 yards for a touch­down by line­backer Josh Byne.

The two plays il­lus­trate how pass-rush pres­sure can lead to game-chang­ing turnovers.

Un­for­tu­nately for the 49ers, it’s not an area in which they have first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence this sea­son.

Af­ter five games, the 49ers have an NFL-worst three take­aways, putting them on pace to force their sec­ond-fewest turnovers in a non-strike sea­son in fran­chise his­tory (12 in 2015). The lack of take­aways is tied to their mid­dling pass-rush. They are tied for 24th in the NFL in sacks (nine) and just one of their take­aways was cre­ated by pres­sure on a quar­ter­back: In Week 2, line­backer Eli­jah Lee forced a fum­ble with a hit on the Lions’ Matthew Stafford.

In Sun­day’s 28-18 loss to the Car­di­nals, Ari­zona cre­ated two of its five take­aways with pres­sure on Beathard. Be­fore Red­dick’s game-seal­ing strip, Pro Bowl de­fen­sive end Chan­dler Jones had a strip-sack of Beathard and re­cov­ered the fum­ble.

In con­trast, the 49ers, who had one sack, couldn’t force a turnover by rookie quar­ter­back Josh Rosen, who was mak­ing his sec­ond ca­reer start.

Af­ter the game, cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man can­didly ad­dressed the is­sue when asked how the 49ers could cre­ate more turnovers.

“It’s rush­ing the passer,” Sher­man said. “It’s any time you take the ball from the quar­ter­back. It’s just more strip at­tempts. It’s tighter cov­er­age in the back end, be­ing where you’re sup­posed to be.”

The 49ers’ one in­ter­cep­tion means they have fewer picks than 19 play­ers. And their three take­aways match the to­tal cre­ated by Bears’ pass-rusher Khalil Mack, who has an in­ter­cep­tion and four forced fum­bles, two of which Chicago re­cov­ered.

The 49ers des­per­ately need a dis­rup­tive edge rusher, which is why they tried to trade for Mack, 27, be­fore the Raiders dealt the two-time All-Pro to the Bears on Sept. 1.

The 49ers have pa­tiently gone about re­build­ing, but they were pre­pared to sac­ri­fice ma­jor draft-pick and salary-cap re­sources to ac­quire Mack. The Bears signed Mack to a six-year con­tract with $90 mil­lion guar­an­teed af­ter land­ing him in a pack­age that in­cluded two firstround picks.

The 49ers’ ag­gres­sive pur­suit sug­gests they are well aware of what’s the big­gest weak­ness on their de­fense.

“We made ev­ery ef­fort to try to se­cure his ser­vices,” gen­eral man­ager John Lynch said Fri­day on KNBR. “… We went in there and we went in there hard. Our of­fer was very sim­i­lar to the one that ul­ti­mately won out. I don’t know what went into the Raiders’ mind-set in terms of where they sent him. But that was one we knew we had a game-changer.”

The Leo po­si­tion is where the 49ers place their top pass-rusher, and the spot is cur­rently oc­cu­pied by Cas­sius Marsh. The 49ers signed Marsh to a two-year, $7.7 mil­lion ex­ten­sion in Fe­bru­ary, but he has just one sack this sea­son and seven in his five-year ca­reer.

On Fri­day, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh was asked about the need to add an edge rusher at least ap­proach­ing the level of Mack.

“Ob­vi­ously, every­one would love to have a Khalil Mack,” Saleh said. “That’s with­out say­ing. But the guys we have have been get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day and they’ve got to con­tinue to get bet­ter. The bot­tom line is that it’s a pro­duc­tion league. So we can be a bunch of try-hard guys if we want, but we still have to find a way to pro­duce. And the men that we have in our build­ing, we’re very con­fi­dent in.”

The re­al­ity is 49ers prob­a­bly don’t have a game-chang­ing pass-rusher.

Five games into the sea­son, it’s a take­away sup­ported by their lack of take­aways.

Eric Branch is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: ebranch@sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @Eric_Branch

Scott Straz­zante / The Chron­i­cle

Cas­sius Marsh cel­e­brates with Jaquiski Tart af­ter re­cov­er­ing a fum­ble by De­troit’s Matthew Stafford last month.

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