49ers de­fense strug­gling to force in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son

The Modesto Bee - - Front Page - BY JOE STIGLICH As­so­ci­ated Press


Op­por­tu­nity is slip­ping through San Fran­cisco’s young de­fen­sive backs’ hands.

Through 12 games, the 49ers have just two in­ter­cep­tions – the fewest in the NFL – and it isn’t al­ways for lack of be­ing in po­si­tion to make big plays. Their pass de­fend­ers sim­ply can’t se­cure the foot­ball when it does come their way.

“Ev­ery game it seems like the ball’s on the ground or we’re miss­ing an op­por­tu­nity,” 49ers de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh said. “They are go­ing to come in bunches, but it’s baf­fling to me that we haven’t been able to get (more in­ter­cep­tions).”

Los­ing the turnover bat­tle goes a long way to­ward ex­plain­ing the 49ers’ 2-10 record as they pre­pare to host the Den­ver Bron­cos on Sun­day.

San Fran­cisco’s mi­nus-20 turnover mar­gin is the worst in the league. The 49ers have turned the ball over 25 times but gen­er­ated just five take­aways them­selves.

Part of that, at least in terms of pass de­fense, can fairly be at­trib­uted to the youth and in­ex­pe­ri­ence in the se­condary.

For­mer All-Pro cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man

lends vet­eran wis­dom in his first year with the team. But sec­ond-year cor­ner­back Ahkello With­er­spoon has been picked on by op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions this sea­son. With­er­spoon also failed to haul in a po­ten­tial in­ter­cep­tion on a slant pass that he de­fended well last week against Seat­tle.

Due to in­juries, the 49ers are ex­pected to start a pair of rook­ies at the safety po­si­tions Sun­day in D.J. Reed and Mar­cell Har­ris, who have a com­bined 15 games and two starts of NFL ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween them. Reed, at free safety, is re­plac­ing the in­jured Adrian Col­bert, who is only in his sec­ond sea­son him­self.

Sher­man said young de­fen­sive backs of­ten get them­selves in po­si­tion to make plays but lose con­cen­tra­tion on the most im­por­tant part – wrap­ping up the foot­ball for an in­ter­cep­tion.

“The old say­ing was the rea­son they play ‘DB’ is be­cause they can’t catch, but I don’t think that’s as true any­more,” Sher­man said.

But Sher­man, a four­time Pro Bowl player in his eighth sea­son, hasn’t helped in this de­part­ment ei­ther. He en­tered the sea­son with 32 ca­reer in­ter­cep­tions, most among all ac­tive play­ers since 2011, but has yet to record one in 2018.

In Sher­man’s de­fense, he isn’t get­ting that many op­por­tu­ni­ties since op­po­nents are choos­ing to tar­get With­er­spoon in cov­er­age more.

Never has Sher­man recorded fewer than two in­ter­cep­tions in a sea­son. Is he aware of that stat? “Yeah, (but) the ball will get where it gets,” he replied.

Den­ver quar­ter­back Case Keenum threw 10 in­ter­cep­tions through the first eight games, but he hasn’t been picked off a sin­gle time since then.


49ers strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (29) in­ter­cepts a pass in­tended for Carolina’s Kelvin Ben­jamin dur­ing a Sept. 10 game. San Fran­cisco has strug­gled to get in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son, to­tal­ing two through 12 games.

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