The 49ers defense gave up just 3.4 yards per carry last season — second fewest in the NFL.
When Kyle Shanahan became the 49ers head coach in 2017, the first thing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and assistant coach DeMeco Ryans improved was the run defense. And for some strange reason, that’s the first thing their successor, Steve Wilks, has dismantled.
The 49ers defense gave up just 3.4 yards per carry last season — second fewest in the NFL. And they accomplished this without Javon Hargrave, who was on the Eagles last season. Plus Arik Armstead missed 9 games. So the 49ers were undermanned.
Now Armstead is fully healthy, and Hargrave is on the team — the run defense should be better. But it’s not. It has fallen off. It’s giving up 4.1 yards per carry, which ranks 18th out of 32 teams. What a decline from last season. And what a predictable outcome.
In order to sign Hargrave, the 49ers couldn’t re-sign several key run defenders, such as Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, Hassan Ridgeway, Azeez Al-Shaair and Jimmie Ward.
This offseason, the 49ers replaced Ward with Isaiah Oliver, who’s terrible. They replaced Ridgeway with Javon Hargrave, who’s not a good run defender. They replaced Al-Shaair with Oren Burks, who’s a glorified special teamer. They replaced Omenihu with Clelin Ferrell, who’s not good. They replaced Ebukam with Chase Young, who hasn’t played a game with the 49ers yet, but has developed a reputation as a player who doesn’t maintain gap integrity against the run.
Wilks decided to focus his defense on pass rush and pass coverage, and sacrificed run defense in the process. Saleh and Ryans must be shaking their heads.