SANTA CLARA – Defensive lineman Quinton Dial spoke softly at his locker about the 49ers’ struggles defending the run.
“It’s just consistency is the thing,” Dial said. “We just got to stay consistent. We just got to play consistent ball on defense. That’s what I’m saying. Assignment, alignment and tackling, that’s how we can do that.”
Dial pointed the finger at himself for being responsible for the big play the 49ers allowed on Sunday in a 41-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints. On the first play from scrimmage after the 49ers cut the deficit to 21-10 in the second quarter, Saints running back Mark Ingram tore off a 75-yard touchdown run.
Coach Chip Kelly said the 49ers had a blitz coming from the right side and the defense called for the four down linemen to slant to the left.
“We had a guy go in the wrong direction up front, so we had an open gap that we shouldn’t have had an open gap in,” Kelly said.
The player who went the wrong way was Dial, a fourth-year player who is the only 49ers’ defensive lineman to start every game this season. In the offseason, the 49ers signed Dial to a three-year contract extension.
“I (messed) up,” said Dial, who used a more descriptive term. “That’s what it comes down to, I just (messed) up.”
Dial went the wrong way. Instead of filling the gap through which Ingram ran, Dial went into DeForest Buckner’s territory. That allowed Saints right tackle Zach Strief, who would have had to account for Dial, to get untouched to the second level to block linebacker Gerald Hodges. Ingram then ran past safety Antoine Bethea untouched into the end zone for the longest run of his six-year NFL career.
The 49ers rank last in the NFL, allowing 193.0 yards per game. The 49ers’ run defense is nearly 50 yards per game worse than the winless Cleveland Browns, who rank 31st in the league.
There are way too many mistakes, way too many big plays allowed. In their seven-game losing streak, the 49ers’ have given up 12 run plays of more than 20 yards, including touchdowns of 41, 44, 44 and 75 yards.
But Dial said he believes the 49ers are getting closer to tightening things up on defense.
“To be honest with you, I can see it when I watch film,” he said. “It’s just a guy here or a guy there. If he’d been just a little quicker here or he’d been a step faster here or if he’d shade his alignment a little bit more here. I feel like we’re close. We just have to be consistent across the board – defensive line, linebackers and secondary. I feel like if we can do that, we can win ballgames.”