SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Whether it was the rest from a week off, the addition of Chase Young, coordinator Steve Wilks' move from the booth to the sideline or a combination of all of the above, the problems on San Francisco's defense seemed to get fixed during the bye week.
After scuffling during a three-game losing streak when the 49ers struggled to stop the run, didn't generate enough pressure and had breakdowns in coverage, San Francisco's defense got back to its early season dominant form against Jacksonville.
“It felt like it. It looked like it. I was confident coming into the game,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “Just kind of the self reflection through the bye week of what we need to be in terms of play styles, I think Coach Wilks called the perfect game. We made Trevor Lawrence’s life hard the whole game. When we’re playing hard, that’s what it looks like.”
San Francisco finished with five sacks thanks in part to a few strategic tweaks and the addition of Young a bookend pass rusher across from Nick Bosa, generated four takeaways and allowed only one field goal in the 34-3 win over the Jaguars last week that the Niners hope will carry over to the second half of the season.
It was a far cry from the previous three games when the defense was a major culprit in a three-game losing streak. The Niners had 32 missed tackles in those games, according to Pro Football Focus, compared to just nine the previous three games. San Francisco allowed 15 plays of 20 or more yards during the skid compared to 10 in the first five games.
“I wish I had an answer for it,” Warner said about the struggles. “It’s kind of hard to put my finger on it as well, because it just wasn’t us. It wasn’t that everybody wasn’t trying hard. It’s just that it wasn’t up to our standard at all three levels. A lot of things get covered up when you play hard in terms of tackling. Even if a guy misses a assignment, if you’re playing fast, you’re playing violent, some things you can cover up that way. I felt like play style more than anything is something that we needed to get back to.”
Bosa said the front seven did a much better job against the run, setting edges and creating negative plays that led to more obvious passing situations.
Then the addition of Young, acquired from Washington at the trade deadline, gave San Francisco another feared pass rusher that created more chances for everyone when the tight coverage prevented quick throws.
“Whenever you looked at our sack opportunities and when we were there, you looked in the back and nobody was open,” Bosa said. “Then if maybe there was a guy open, we had a quick win on the line. It was very complementary.”
But the Niners know it was just one game and they need to maintain that level of play down the stretch if they want to achieve their goals of winning the division, possibly earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC and eventually make it to the Super Bowl after losing in the conference title game the past two seasons.
That means they can't let up as they might have done a bit after dominating Dallas to improve to 5-0. San Francisco lost the next three games after that win.
“I think we learned our lesson,” Bosa said. “I don’t think we got complacent or anything, but it is human nature to think about your opponent and what opportunities you might have, what strengths and weaknesses they have. We just need to not so much look at our opponent, but look at ourselves and make sure that we’re playing as good as we can.”
NOTES: Backup OL Nick Zakelj tore his biceps Sunday and underwent season-ending surgery. ... LG Aaron Banks (toe) and LT Trent Williams (rest) missed practice. ... RT Colton McKivitz (ankle) and LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (ankle) were limited. ... DL Spencer Waege was signed to the team’s practice squad and DL Austin Bryant was released.