The day after February 3rd, the San Francisco 49ers’ secondary was torched by fans and media members.
Joe Flacco exploded in the first half, as he had 13 completions on 20 attempts for 192 passing yards and three touchdowns. The big play was a 56 yard touchdown strike to Jacoby Jones over the head of Chris Culliver. That game capped off an awful stretch for the Niners’ pass defense. Four of their six worst pass defense performances came in the final six game stretch of the season.
The fan base immediately placed the blame on the Niners’ secondary for their failure to bring home a sixth Lombardi trophy. Many felt changes needed to be made in the secondary, and that the Niners needed to make a move to bring in a top flight corner.
The popular name being tossed around was Darrelle Revis and his massive contract. As trade rumors swirled, the Niners were linked with Revis constantly with their apparent need in their secondary.
The Niners decided to hold on to the draft picks needed to secure the services of Revis and add depth to the secondary through the draft and free agency. The Niners brought in veteran safety Craig Dahl as depth to help replace the loss of Dashon Goldson.
They also signed four-time All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to a one-year, below market deal with performance-based incentives. In the draft, the Niners traded up in the first round to select safety Eric Reid out of LSU as the probable replacement for Goldson.
Reid and Asomugha have looked impressive in mini-camps and OTAs, despite the non-contact rules that limit the best part of either player’s game. Reid plays a similar game to Goldson, with a bigger frame and more potential to play centerfield in the deep coverage game. Reid is assumed to be the starter once the regular season rolls around.
Asomugha is going to provide the Niners with depth on the outside. His ability to be physical in coverage will help the defense defend against some of the bigger receivers in the NFC West.
The secondary depth chart looks to be much stronger this season. It should make for a much improved season for the Niners’ pass defense that was one of the better units in the NFL for much of the season.
The Niners pass defense was the fourth best unit in the league allowing 200.2 yards per game in the regular season.
A lot of it was due to the strong play of Culliver and Tarell Brown. Culliver was rated as one of the top-10 best cornerbacks in the league for most of the season. Brown has quietly become one of the better cover corners in the league. Last season, he ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 13th best corner.
The secondary is not solely to blame for the decline in the pass defense over the second half of the season. The pass rush also dried up over the last several weeks. A large part of that was due to the injuries of Aldon Smith and Justin Smith. Justin Smith was injured in the game against New England in Week 15.
In the following five games, the Niners’ defense recorded only seven sacks, including four in the three playoff games. The lack of a consistent pass rush was a major factor in the Niners’ struggle to defend the pass at the end of the season.
The lack of pass rushing depth played a major role, as no player was able to step into the slot left by the two pass rushers. They attempted to fill out their pass rushing depth in the draft. They used two of their top four picks on players that are expected to provide depth and step into those into the future.
The Niners’ defense is ready to take that next step into being a complete defense that is considered among the elite in NFL history. They have always been known for the ability to stop an opponent’s running game, while the pass defense has been seen as the weak link.
They have a top cornerback in Brown and an emerging star in Culliver. They also have deeper depth with the addition of Asomugha to provide competition for Carlos Rogers on the outside. The safety position might have early struggles as Reid acclimates to the NFL level, as he steps into slot vacated by Goldson in free agency.
They have also made an attempt to upgrade the depth of their pass rush. They need to create more pass rush outside of both Smiths and Ahmad Brooks.
Corey Lemonier is expected to create an impact as a situational pass rusher during his rookie season. Also, Parys Haralson is expected back from a season-ending injury to provide even more depth and to allow for more rotation on the edge rushers.
These improvements should allow the Niners’ secondary to become an elite unit next season.