San Francisco

Niners Hope Defense Can Continue to Ride the Turnover Train

In opening-game victory, 49ers capitalized on turnovers, something the 2018 team couldn't do

A year ago, the 49ers were terrible in one key category: turnover margin.

San Francisco gave away the ball on offense way too much, while its defense took the ball away too little. The 49ers had a negative-25 turnover margin, by far the worst in the NFL.

The defense had just two interceptions and five fumble recoveries.

But through one game in 2019, that picture has changed – a possible indication this 49ers team could be more successful than the 2018 version that finished 4-12.

In the regular-season opener, a victory over Tampa Bay, the 49ers had three interceptions and a fumble recovery, while giving away the ball twice, once on an interception and another on a fumble.

Going into Sunday’s game in Cincinnati against the Bengals, the 49ers are among the 13 NFL teams with a positive number in turnover margin, at plus-2, tied for second in the league.

Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon each returned interceptions for touchdowns, and linebacker Mark Nzeocha had his first pro pick. Defensive lineman Ronald Blair had the fumble recovery and Ford and linebacker Fred Warner forced fumbles (one of which was recovered by the Bucs).

With a stronger pass rush this year, sparked by newcomers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, the Niners hope to create more opportunities for their defense to get takeaways.

Tight end George Kittle said it was fun to watch the defense do its thing against the Bucs, which took pressure off the offense. It was a far different scene than in 2018.

"I mean, watching Bosa get sacks, and watching Dee Ford strip and get fumbles, it gets the offense going," Kittle told the media. "'When your defense is playing like that, and Sherman gets a pick-six, and Ahkello with the pick-six, it just gets you fired up.

"It’s hard to watch an offense go down, and the defense have a 12-play drive for a touchdown. That kind of drains the offense, too, sitting there. When your defense makes those big plays, it just gets everyone excited. It gets the offense moving, it’s just good vibes really. It just gets you going."

The 1-0 49ers will take on the 0-1 Bengals Sunday. Cincinnati fumbled the ball away three times in its opening loss to Seattle.

Kickoff is set for 10 a.m.

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