The 49ers have an excellent defense on paper.
It ranks sixth in total defense, which means it has given up the sixth-fewest yards among NFL defenses this season, which is quite good. But it also ranks 21st in points allowed, which is not good at all.
Why the big difference?
Here's the deal. The 49ers defense gives up large chunks of yards via penalty, particularly pass interferences, and those yards don't count in the 49ers' defensive ranking, but they count during the games.
So far through seven games this season, the 49ers defense has committed a whopping 11 pass interfernce penalties -- tops in the NFL.
Here's what defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said this week about the penalty issue:
RYANS: "Everybody has seen and heard about the defensive pass interferences and that definitely has hurt us. We gave up over close to 100 yards in penalties and we can't do that. We can't beat ourselves from that standpoint. We have to play smarter, we have to play better. So, we've been working with those guys all week, just putting them in those positions as often as we can. Putting them in positions, so they're confident and they're comfortable to go out and make a play in the game. And [defensive passing game specialist/secondary coach] Cory [Undlin] has done a great job of working with those guys all week and we expect them to be better as we go out on Sunday.”
Q: What are the coaching points there because other coaches have said, if defensive backs look back for the ball, there's a chance they lose their man in coverage? So in terms of finding that balance between looking for the ball and trying to disrupt the catch point, I guess what's the balance?
RYANS: “Right. Yeah. It's always about just, with the DBs, being in a proper position to start. I think most times guys panic when they're not in position, we call it in phase or out of phase. When you're in phase with the wide receiver or tight end running a route and if you're in phase and you're comfortable, you can look up for the ball. If you’re out of phase, sometimes guys panic and just reach out for the guy but still understand you have time to catch up and just play through the hands, play hands to hands, when you're not in position when that guy's in front of you and you're behind him, you just have to play through the hands and finished at the catch point.”
Q: Do you feel like because you guys were struggling to create turnovers that some guys were pressing a little bit too much to try and create them?
RYANS: “No, I don't feel that way. I think we had our opportunities on Sunday to create turnovers. We were able to get two, had opportunities for a few more. If a ball hit us in the hand, we have to catch it. So, we had our opportunities for at least at least four turnovers there. We just have to capitalize when the ball is thrown to us, we have to make them pay.”