In recent years, the 49ers defense has been terrific against the run.
In 2011, the Niners’ streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher finally was broken in Week 15. And under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have ranked first (2011), fourth (2012) and fourth (2013) in rushing defense.
Stopping the run has been at the heart of the Niners’ master plan.
So, while the 49ers were happy to open up with a 28-17 victory over the host Cowboys Sunday, their defensive performance against Dallas’ running game has to be disappointing to the coaching staff.
The Cowboys rushed for 127 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry, with DeMarco Murray rushing for 118 yards and a TD.
Was it the absence of inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who’s usually at the point of attack on inside running plays? Or did the combination of absentees Bowman, outside linebacker Aldon Smith and last year’s No. 1 nose tackle, Glenn Dorsey – plus the loss of starting corners Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver during the game – all combine to soften the San Francisco defense?
Whatever the cause, the 49ers will need to regroup quickly to plug the holes with the Bears coming to Levi’s Stadium this Sunday night.
In losing to the Bills in Week 1, the Bears averaged 4.8 yards per rushing play, with Matt Forte picking up 82 yards on 17 carries.
Niners defensive end Justin Smith – who had a huge game with four tackles, two assists and two sacks – indicated after the Dallas game that the 49ers will clean some things up. But just getting out of Dallas with a victory with so many key players absent – including losing Brock and Culliver during the game – is a blessing.
“This was one of those mishmash type of days, especially with some injuries early,” Smith told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “We were able to come through and get a win.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio acknowledged his defensive unit didn’t play great, but the unit was able to come up with some key turnovers in the first half that made all the difference.
“Turnovers clean up a lot of messes, and we weren’t playing great in the first half,” Fangio told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “But turnovers were our Ajax detergent, cleaning up the messes.”
The 49ers can’t count on turnovers all the time, though. The defense is going to have to plug those running lanes, just as it’s done the past three seasons.