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What's Wrong With 49ers? It Starts With Cracks in the Defense
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By Associated Press
Published 6 months ago on
October 24, 2023

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MINNEAPOLIS — The San Francisco 49ers have thrived under coach Kyle Shanahan with an efficient and versatile scheme that feeds off one of the NFL‘s most balanced and punishing defenses.

49ers standout Nick Bosa, the 2022 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has only 2½ sacks through seven games. He had 18½ sacks last season.

For all the elite players they have on both sides of the ball, the 49ers are built to win with intelligence and toughness. For the second straight week, they found themselves lamenting the way their opponent beat them at their own game.

Kirk Cousins connected with Jordan Addison for two first-half touchdowns for the Minnesota Vikings, and the 49ers gave up a season-high 452 yards on a 22-17 loss on Monday night for just their second two-game losing streak in two years.

“We’ve got to find ways to win the grimy games,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “Obviously we can win 30-10, but who are we and what are going to do when we’re down and we’ve got to come back?”

The 49ers (5-2) lost 19-17 the previous week at Cleveland. They host Cincinnati on Sunday.

“The NFL will humble you every step of the way,” said defensive end Nick Bosa, the 2022 NFL Defensive Player of the Year who has only 2½ sacks after 18½ sacks last season. “Getting off to a 5-0 start, you kind of get that confidence that we are who we need to be, but the NFL does that. Good players, good schemes, and we’re going to face another good team this week so we’ve got to be ready.”

The 49ers fell to 0-36 under Shanahan when trailing by eight or more points in the fourth quarter, including playoff games.

They also had their streak of 16 straight regular-season games without a negative turnover differential stopped, thanks to a first-quarter fumble by Christian McCaffrey at the Minnesota 11 that prevented them from scoring on their first possession for the first time this season and the two interceptions thrown by Brock Purdy — both by Camryn Bynum — over the last 5:30 of the game.

Defense Fails to Sack Cousins

But this proud defense stacked with Pro Bowl picks that has ranked among the league’s best in so many categories over the last four seasons has shown some cracks in the armor in 2023.

The 49ers failed to sack Cousins, just their sixth game since the start of the 2019 season without one, and gave up 378 passing yards for their second-worst total in five years.

“There was definitely a couple opportunities there where I could’ve changed the game, and I definitely need to do that with the kind of player that I’m supposed to be,” Bosa said.

Said Shanahan: “When you go against a quarterback like that, you’ve got to make him uncomfortable, and he didn’t seem too uncomfortable.”

The defining moment came in the closing seconds of the second quarter, when 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks sent an all-out blitz on third down with three extra pass rushers charging at Cousins. He underthrew his pass for Addison, but the rookie won the tug-of-war battle with cornerback Charvarius Ward and spun away for a 60-yard touchdown with no safety help behind.

As for the risky call by Wilks?

“That’s stuff we’ll discuss throughout this week,” Shanahan said. “Obviously I did not like the result.”

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