49ers attempt to strengthen pass defense
The San Francisco 49ers have followed their defensive script to
the letter during the team’s 1-1 start: Stop the run and force
opponents to pass to beat them.
The NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense certainly has done its job. The
team’s struggling secondary can’t say the same.
The 49ers won’t alter their approach Sunday when they travel to
play the Cincinnati Bengals, part of a 10-day road trip that won’t
bring them back to California until October.
But they will be making some additions in their defensive
backfield that San Francisco hopes will make a difference after the
team allowed 432 yards passing during last week’s overtime loss to
the Dallas Cowboys.
Free safety Dashon Goldson did not play in San Francisco’s first
two games due to a knee injury, and cornerback Shawntae Spencer has
played only a handful of defensive snaps as he gradually works his
way back from a summer hamstring injury. Both veterans carried
streaks of 32 consecutive starts with the 49ers into this
San Francisco has been cautious with each player, but after last
week’s meltdown in the secondary, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio
said Goldson and Spencer will be worked into the defensive rotation
against the Bengals.
”I’m expecting to start,” Goldson said Friday. ”I can’t say
what I can add, but I know what I can do as a football player. I’m
another guy out there that can make things happen and be another
force on the defense.”
The 49ers are looking to force the issue this week against
rookie quarterback Andy Dalton after getting shredded last week by
Tony Romo, who had 185 yards passing on Dallas’ final three drives
to rally the Cowboys from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to a
Dalton, Cincinnati’s second-round draft pick, has had a strong
start to his NFL career. Dalton set a Bengals rookie record with
332 yards passing last week against Denver, when he also became the
second rookie quarterback since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to record a
passer rating of 100 or better in his first two starts.
With Goldson patrolling the deep middle and Spencer getting back
in the mix, San Francisco’s secondary might have more opportunities
to make plays this week.
”You always like to think you can go into a ball game and get
turnovers,” said Goldson, who led the 49ers with four
interceptions and three forced fumbles in 2009. ”We saw a couple
of plays where (Dalton) forced the ball. We’ve got to capitalize on
a lot of those things, tighten up from what we learned last week
and take it into this game.”
The 49ers have been playing tight run defense since the season
began. They are allowing 54.5 yards rushing per game and just 2.5
yards per carry, a figure that also leads the NFL.
With three new starters among its defensive front seven, San
Francisco has picked up where it left off last season, when the
49ers finished sixth in the league in rushing defense and second in
yards allowed per carry.
”Our goal at the beginning of every game is to stop the run,
and we take pride in that,” said inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman,
who has 22 tackles in his first season as a starter. ”Once you do
that, you kind of make a team one-dimensional. We take it as a
challenge to stop the run first and then see what they can do in
the passing game.”
The 49ers will be challenged this week by a Cincinnati rushing
attack that features Cedric Benson, who ranks ninth in the NFL with
180 yards rushing.
San Francisco has allowed 109 yards rushing through two games
and hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 24 consecutive games, the
longest streak in the NFL.
”We’re confident that we can play the run,” Fangio said. ”We
expect that to be a strength of our team and we need it to be
moving forward. We’ll be tested more this week. These guys run it
better than the first two teams that we’ve faced, so we’ll see
exactly where we stand after this game.”