There’s a worn-out football adage that says a good defense travels well, which helps explain why the 49ers have not won a road game this season.
The 49ers, ranked 30th in defense this season, have been particularly porous away from Levi’s Stadium, where they at least have shown intensity.
At home, the 49ers have allowed an average of 342 yards and 15.8 points. On the road, those numbers jump to 464 yards and 35.2 points.
The news gets worse for coach Jim Tomsula, whose team presumably must improve over the next month for him to keep his job: Three of the 49ers’ next four games not only are on the road, they are in the frigid upper Midwest (although Detroit’s Ford Field is indoors) and begin at 10 a.m. California time.
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Tomsula said his team must pack the ferocity they’ve shown at home.
“The changes need to come from each one of us and how we have ourselves prepared to play,” he said Monday. “Again, the acknowledgment of it and mentally coming off getting off a bus on game day – and maybe we need to sprint off the bus. But that sense of urgency and attack that football game.”
The road slog begins Sunday in Chicago, where a number of coaches the 49ers considered either hiring or promoting in the offseason wound up finding jobs when they were passed over in San Francisco.
The group includes former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell, who have the same roles with the Bears. The 49ers’ defense ranked fifth or better from 2011 to 2014, and the Bears’ defense is 16th overall this year, up from 30th last season.
The 49ers also were close to hiring Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who has been credited with quarterback Jay Cutler’s turnaround. Cutler’s 92.5 passer rating through 11 games is the highest of his 10-year career. It’s believed that after the 49ers hired Tomsula in January, Gase was his first choice as offensive coordinator but turned down the job.
Tomsula’s road struggles are in sharp contrast to his predecessor. Under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers went 21-11 away from home in the regular season, although that dipped to 4-4 last season. The 49ers haven’t won on the road since Nov. 16 last season, a 16-10 victory over the Giants.
One of the differences was that the 49ers’ previous defensive units were led by veterans such as Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Donte Whitner. The team’s current version is marked by its youth. When outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, 31, missed Sunday’s game because of a concussion, it meant the team had no one in his 30s on defense. The oldest player was linebacker Michael Wilhoite, 28.
Tomsula, who has been with the 49ers since 2007, said he remembered some previous coaches tweaking the weekly practice schedule so the 49ers would wake up and work out earlier to get accustomed to the time zone where they would be playing.
Harbaugh, however, took a more straightforward approach, refusing to alter the team’s weekly routine. The results were the best road records the 49ers have had since the Bill Walsh-George Seifert era.
“I haven’t seen any of that (practice alterations) make a major impact,” Tomsula said. “I don’t want to do that. We’re going to practice the way we practice and keep going.”
Et cetera – Tomsula said the MRI on Garrett Celek’s injured ankle on Monday would determine if the 49ers will add another tight end. Brian Leonhardt could be elevated from the practice squad.
▪ Tomsula said Marcus Cromartie didn’t play any snaps at cornerback, as he did against Seattle a week earlier, because starter Kenneth Acker was playing well.
▪ As expected, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was at the 49ers’ facility Monday to begin rehabilitating from last week’s shoulder surgery. Rehabilitation is expected to take four to six months.