Niners’ pass-rush no help in turnovers
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: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Eric_Branch
Cassius Marsh celebrates with Jaquiski Tart after recovering a fumble by Detroit’s Matthew Stafford last month.