San Francisco 49ers

On 49ers: Tale of two Mannings underscores SF’s defensive dropoff

San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (59) beats New York Giants' Charles Brown (71) to sack Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J.
San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (59) beats New York Giants' Charles Brown (71) to sack Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. AP

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers are producing trophies at a blistering this season. The problem is that they're being awarded to their opponents.

Three foes have won conference player-of-the-week honors after facing San Francisco: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2, Cardinals cornerback Tyrann Mathieu -- two interceptions, one for a touchdown -- in Week 3 and Giants quarterback Eli Manning for his efforts this past Sunday.

The weekly awards are not a big deal. They barely register among the players. But they are another reminder of how far the 49ers have fallen in one year, especially Manning's.

When he played the 49ers last year, it was a San Francisco defender, rookie linebacker Chris Borland, who came away with defensive-player-of-the-week award. Manning was sacked twice, had one touchdown pass and five interceptions (two by Borland), completed 48.9 percent of his passes for 280 yards and finished with a passer rating of 36.6. It was his worst performance of the season.

Contrast that with Manning's Sunday performance: No sacks, three touchdowns and one interception, completed 75.9 percent of his passes for 441 yards and had a passer rating of 110.2. It's been his best performance of the season.

Yes, the 49ers defensive talent was better a year ago. But the game against the Giants was the one in which Ahmad Brooks was benched for bad behavior and one that featured a rusty Aldon Smith, who was playing his first game since his suspension. Patrick Willis already was on injured reserve by the time the 49ers went to New York.

There will be a lot written and said this week about former coach Jim Harbaugh because his brother is coming town Sunday. But don't forget the 49ers also passed over former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for the head-coaching job.

Fangio's defenses never finished lower than fifth in the league in yards allowed and 10th in the league in points allows. (They finished 10th in points allowed last year; third, second, second in preceding years).

The current group ranks 31st and 27th in those categories.

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Linebacker NaVorro Bowman has not been his usual self in coverage this year and the 49ers seem to be contemplating -- Jim Tomsula spoke Wednesday about "monitoring" Bowman's snaps -- taking him off the field from time to time.

That's a big decision.

Quarterbacks have completed 21 of 22 passes when Bowman is covering their intended receiver, according to Pro Football Focus, and they have a collective 135.2 passer rating when targeting him.

Still, he's the heart and soul of not just the defense but the 49ers as a whole.

He hasn't spoken to the media since the topic of his snap count was raised. Maybe he agrees that limiting his snaps will give him better bounce when he is on the field.

But there's also a sense that he would resist. After all, Bowman was in obvious pain at end of the Cardinals game in which the 49ers trailed by 33 points but refused exit the contest.

The signal: I'm going to keep fighting no matter what. It's a message that needs to be sent to a young defense that mostly has struggled through five games.

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The common denominators between the Ravens and 49ers: Both teams have been ravaged by attrition since they played in the Super Bowl 32 months ago and both head into Sunday's game with 1-4 records.

But they are arguably different 1-4s. The Ravens have been competitive in each of their losses, and their average margin of defeat is 4.3 points. The 49ers' average margin of defeat: 20.5 points.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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