Notified that both Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner played 69 snaps against the Arizona Cardinals last week, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh on Thursday sighed and said, “We’ve got to get off the field.”
As was the case against the Cardinals, the 49ers played nearly a full overtime Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, and the snap-count results weren’t much better. Buckner played 67 of 76 possible defensive snaps in Indianapolis while Thomas, a rookie, played 66.
Buckner continues to be one of the most heavily used interior lineman in the NFL, despite vows from Saleh and defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina before the season that a steady rotation of linemen would lessen Buckner’s and everyone else’s workload. One of the problems is that the 49ers are having a hard time on third downs; The Colts converted half their attempts Sunday. Arik Armstead played 53 snaps, Earl Mitchell 47, Elvis Dumervil and Aaron Lynch 22 each. Xavier Cooper, who is Buckner’s primary backup, played 12 snaps.
Why did the 49ers rotate their inside linebackers Sunday, much to the disappointment of NaVorro Bowman? A big reason is that Bowman played a season-high 83 snaps last week against Arizona.
Bowman didn’t play well against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 21 following an 82-snap game against the Seattle Seahawks – albeit on four days of rest – and the 49ers coaches are intent on keeping him fresh. After all, they’re in the midst of a three-game span of road games and will go even farther, to Washington, for their upcoming game against the Redskins. Bowman played 58 snaps in Indianapolis; Ray-Ray Armstrong played 57 and Brock Coyle 25.
Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon played in place of Dontae Johnson on the 49ers’ second defensive series and in place of Rashard Robinson on the third. However, a concussion limited him to six snaps. Johnson played 72, Robinson 62 and K’Waun Williams 55.
Injuries to Witherspoon and Asa Jackson (hamstring), as well as a muscle cramp for Robinson, sent safety Lorenzo Jerome into the game. The 49ers shuffled by moving Williams to the outside, having Jimmie Ward play nickel cornerback and placing Jerome at free safety. He played 20 snaps.
At running back, rookie Matt Breida had the busiest game of his young career. He played 35 offensive snaps while Carlos Hyde played 33 and Raheem Mostert was in on four. ... The tight-end snaps were divided like this: 40 for rookie George Kittle, 32 for Garrett Celek and three for Logan Paulsen.
Like Witherspoon, rookie Pita Taumoepenu played his first-ever NFL regular-season game Sunday. He played 16 snaps on special teams, none on defense.