The 1-6 49ers are making no major changes to personnel, their coaching staff, their scheme or their approach coming out of their bye week. They just need to be more consistent, coach Chip Kelly said Wednesday.
“There are times when we play really well,” he said. “And you look at our defense and there are times when we go four or five or six series in a row where we’re playing really, really good defense and we’re getting people off the field. But then something happens.”
Kelly pointed to his team’s most recent game, a 34-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 23, as an example.
The 49ers offense went on a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game. The defense forced the Buccaneers into a three-and-out series and a punt to open the second half.
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But then …
“The gunner runs into the return man and he puts (the ball) on the ground,” Kelly said. “Now the defense has got to go out on the field. So it’s about being consistent in all three phases.”
San Francisco’s most prominent opponent Sunday agreed the 49ers have looked good at times, including a defense that ranks a distant last at stopping the run.
“Listen, they fly around,” New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “And they give you a lot of multiple looks, a lot of pressure looks. I see them as a really aggressive defense. They’ve got some big, physical guys up front.”
Of course, Brees also said one of his responsibilities is to make sure his younger teammates don’t get overconfident after their win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Like any savvy veteran, Brees was full of rosy compliments for his opponent during a conference call with reporters.
“Obviously, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said.
The 49ers’ ability to play well in spurts has convinced coaches the schemes they are running are sound. Asked if the issues with erratic play and lapses in fundamentals could be attributed to the team’s overall youth, Kelly said, “Well, we do have some young players, but I’m not in the excuse business.
“You asked me what (the problem) is, and I’m just saying we’re not consistent,” he said. “You can’t make excuses that because you’re a young player, you’re allowed not to be consistent. There have been young players that are consistent.”
Injuries have sidelined one of the team’s most experienced defenders, linebacker NaVorro Bowman, for the season and limited another, nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, to a smattering of snaps per game.
Against Tampa Bay, the 49ers started two inside linebackers – Nick Bellore and Gerald Hodges – who had a combined 19 starts entering the game. The three-man defensive line was composed of 22-year-old DeForest Buckner, 22-year-old Arik Armstead and 26-year-old Quinton Dial.
Still, the 49ers don’t make a lot of youthful errors in other aspects. Their 31 penalties, for example, are the fewest in the NFL. They have a minus-2 turnover differential, which isn’t good but which puts them in the middle of the league standings in that category.
Kelly also noted the 49ers don’t make the same errors in practice that they make on Sundays.
“I think it’s one of those deals where it’s about being able to take it from the practice field to the game field, and that’s the transition that we’re not making at all times right now,” he said.