Lack of take­aways leads to 49ers losses

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - Josh Dubow AP PRO FOOT­BALL WRITER

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – When it comes to stop­ping op­pos­ing of­fenses from mov­ing the ball, the San Fran­cisco 49ers de­fense has fared all right early this sea­son.

When it comes to gen­er­at­ing the game-chang­ing take­aways that so of­ten de­ter­mine who wins in the NFL, no team has been worse so far.

There are many rea­sons why the 49ers are off to such a dis­ap­point­ing start with one win through five games, with the sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury to quar­ter­back Jimmy Garop­polo the most no­table.

But a de­fense that has gen­er­ated a league-low three take­aways for the fewest to­tal for the fran­chise af­ter five games since 1977 is a ma­jor rea­son why.

“We just have to find a way, that’s all it comes down to,” cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man said.

“Take­aways are kind of more of a ball bounces your way, you get tips some­times. Last week, we lim­ited them pretty good. We have to be more vi­o­lent in tack­ling and can’t miss when the quar­ter­back throws into cov­er­age.”

Turnovers of­ten come be­cause of the pass rush and the 49ers have strug­gled there with no con­sis­tent edge rusher. They rank in the bot­tom half of the league in both sacks and quar­ter­back pres­sures de­spite al­low­ing the ninth fewest yards per play at 5.31.

The only take­aways so far this sea­son have come when Sher­man re­cov­ered a fum­ble in the opener at Min­nesota, Cas­sius Marsh re­cov­ered one af­ter a strip sack by Eli­jah Lee against Detroit in Week 2 and An­tone Exum had a pick-six on the third play from scrim­mage two weeks ago against the Charg­ers.

The team has gen­er­ated no turnovers in the 113 plays on de­fense since then.

“We’ve had our op­por­tu­ni­ties this year,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh said. “There’s an old cliche say­ing that, ‘Catch the ones that are thrown to you.’ We’ve had our op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially early in the year where I think we’ve dropped about three or four in­ter­cep­tions this year. We’ve got­ten the ball out. We’re tak­ing shots at the ball. There’s great in­tent. Take­aways come in bunches, they do. … I know it’s a re­sul­to­ri­ented busi­ness, but the re­sult is a prod­uct of the process that you go through within every play, within every day. If we keep at­tack­ing the ball the way we have and the D-Line keeps press­ing the pocket and get­ting af­ter the quar­ter­back, I’m very con­fi­dent that even­tu­ally they’ll come.”

Try­ing too hard for turnovers can back fire, how­ever. On the first play of a loss to Ari­zona last week, free safety Adrian Col­bert jumped up in cov­er­age an­tic­i­pat­ing a throw over the mid­dle to Larry Fitzger­ald.

In­stead, Car­di­nals rookie Josh Rosen tar­geted Chris­tian Kirk deep and the play turned into a 75-yard touch­down be­cause cor­ner­back Ahkello Wither­spoon didn’t have the deep help he ex­pected from Col­bert on the play.

The Car­di­nals gained just 145 yards the rest of the game but it proved to be enough in a 28-18 vic­tory, es­pe­cially be­cause the de­fense pro­vided no short fields for the of­fense, which be­gan each of its 13 drives in­side San Fran­cisco’s 40-yard line.

“When peo­ple feel like they need to do more than what they’re be­ing asked to do, that’s when bad things ac­tu­ally hap­pen,” Saleh said. “Right now, that first play, and A.C. will tell you, he’d love to have that play back, but the way they re­sponded af­ter that play and the way they came out and played and ex­e­cuted the de­fense all the way through, I thought was re­ally good on their part to re­main com­posed and to con­tinue to fight all the way through the game.”

CARY EDMONDSON-USA TO­DAY SPORTS

San Fran­cisco 49ers de­fen­sive back Richard Sher­man (25) looks to­wards the score­board dur­ing a break in the ac­tion against the Ari­zona Car­di­nals in the fourth quar­ter at Levi's Sta­dium.

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