Injuries don’t completely explain how easily the San Francisco 49ers were bullied by the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6. The Niners lost 28-14 largely because a previously stout defense was overpowered, particularly in the running game.
One All-Pro wasn’t happy about what he saw from the unit. He blasted the 49ers’ defense for being “soft” against a more physical team.
All-Pro Delivers Scathing Verdict on Depleted Defense
Fred Warner wasn’t happy with how the defense performed at the Mercedes Benz Stadium. The All-Pro linebacker explained how things “just felt soft out there. We weren’t knocking (them) back. That’s just on us. That’s completely something we can control,” per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Warner also made reference to the unit-wide huddle called by defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans in the third quarter: “He wanted us to get going.” The dressing down worked in part, with Warner and Co. not allowing a single point during the final period, but the damage had already been done.
Damage like giving up a rushing touchdown to Falcons’ dual-threat quarterback Marcus Mariota. He scorched the Niners with 60 yards on five runs, and Chris Wilson of Fansided’s Niner Noise felt Ryans didn’t have a plan for keeping Mariota in the pocket:
Containing Mariota wasn’t the only priority for Ryans. He also had to scheme ways to stifle a relentless power-rushing attack featuring a host of Falcons running backs. Whatever the plan was, it didn’t work, because Atlanta amassed 168 yards on the ground from 40 attempts.
The success on the ground helped the Falcons control the clock for 33:25 and only go three and out once, according to Branch. He also noted how a Mariota-led offense put together “grind-it-out touchdown drives of 74 (11 plays), 75 (11) and 65 yards (9).”
This was a brand of football the 49ers usually inflict on defenses, but a combination of injuries decimating Ryans’ group and their own offense failing to sustain drives proved too much to overcome.
Injuries and Non-Complementary Football Doomed 49ers
Ryans was dealing with six absentees from his familiar starting lineup. They included edge-rusher Nick Bosa and defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw.
More key names soon joined the growing ranks of the walking wounded. Cornerback Charvarius Ward was sidelined during the game, as was safety Talanoa Hufanga, who remains in concussion protocol, per David Lombardi of The Athletic:
Naturally, the 49ers were unable to play bruising defense with so many stud players missing. In particular, the presence of Armstead and Kinlaw inside would surely have slowed a Falcons running game that has been productive all season.
It would also have helped Warner and a banged-up defense if the Niners’ offense had kept the football for longer. Instead, San Francisco ran just 16 times for 60 yards. The lack of movement on the ground brought several drives to an end prematurely.
Two of those stalled marches were doubly costly because of the timing, according to tight end George Kittle. He told Lombardi’s colleague Matt Barrows, “we came out (to start the game) with a three-and-out, then a three-and-out to start the second half. That’s something we can’t do, especially when our defense is down like that.”
Just like on defense, injuries have ravaged San Fran’s options on offense. Running backs Elijah Mitchell and Tyrion Davis-Price are out, along with dominant left tackle Trent Williams, while right tackle Mike McGlinchey became another casualty against the Falcons, per Jennifer Lee Chan of 49ers on NBCS:
Balance is crucial to the kind of offense head coach Kyle Shanahan likes to call. It’s a system designed around outside zone-stretch running and play-action passes.
The balance is also key to keeping the defense fresh, especially since Ryans’ scheme relies on relentless pressure from the front four. It’s the perfect formula for complementary football, something the Niners can’t execute with so many important players on the shelf.
Sadly, things may not improve too much ahead of Week 7’s game with the Kansas City Chiefs. Chan also reported how Shanahan is “doubtful” Armstead will return in time, while the coach is “not too optimistic” about safety Jimmie Ward’s chances.