Foster is Leading 49ers' Improved Defense Against the Run

The 49ers want Reuben Foster (No. 56) to stay on his feet when tackling opponents. (Getty Images)

The 49ers go into their season finale Sunday in Los Angeles with a chance to hold the Rams to under 100 yards rushing for the sixth straight game.

With the Rams sitting Todd Gurley – to ensure his health for the playoffs – it seems the 49ers have a great chance to do it. If so, it would be the team’s longest such streak since 2011, when the 49ers held foes to under 100 for 10 consecutive weeks.

One of the reasons the San Francisco defense has performed so much better against the run has been the emergence of inside linebacker Reuben Foster, the team’s second first-round pick of the 2017 draft.

The former Alabama star got off to a slow start because of an injury suffered in the first game of the season, but Foster has shown why the 49ers believed he was an impact player. The analytic website Pro Football Focus grades Foster as the top NFL rookie, with a mark of 91.7, and the fourth-best linebacker in the entire league. Foster has said he wants to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, and it’s now a possibility.

Foster has been terrific, with the ability to range from sideline to sideline and also plug gaps with authority. In nine games he’s been in on 67 tackles with two passes defensed. In the 49ers’ four-game winning streak, Foster has been in on seven, eight, nine and five tackles.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh says Foster is a fine player already, but believes he can still make big strides. Foster came into the league with a shoulder injury that scared off many teams, and he’s also picked up some minor injuries in his rookie season that have cost him some playing time or forced him to play through discomfort. Saleh hopes Foster can improve his tackling technique over the offseason to protect himself and also avoid injuries. Sometimes, says Saleh, Foster goes airborne to make a tackle.

“When he learns to run his feet through contact he’s going to destroy people without hurting himself,” Saleh told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “That’s something he’s got to learn in the offseason, how to tackle the right way.”

The 5-10 49ers take on the 11-4 Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum, with kickoff set for 1:25 p.m. With the Rams set to hold out several key players – including Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff – oddsmakers have made the 49ers three-point favorites.