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Improving 49ers defense ready for Titans challenge

Improving 49ers defense ready for Titans challenge

Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t the only reason the 49ers are beginning to win.

 fourth in rushing yards allowed per game, the 49ers defense has been one of the best in the NFL. It ranks fourth in yards allowed per game,For the past four games, tied for sixth in points allowed per game and seventh in passing yards allowed per game since Week 10.

In related news, rookie linebacker Reuben Foster has been healthy the past four games. He missed six of the first eight games this season with ankle and rib injuries.

Is Foster the main reason the 49ers defense has improved, or are other factors involved?

” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Thursday during his weekly press conference. “(Foster) is a special talent. Glad we have him. The injury bug has kind of settled down on defense. So, he does help,“Obviously, those guys have been able to stack together practices and weeks and they’re starting to understand and play off each other and communicate. All those different things that are so critical to the success of the defense.

“I also don’t want to diminish what the offense has been able to do over that same timeframe. The energy that’s being fed to the defense and the urgency that (the defense feels) to get the offense the ball. It’s verbalized by those guys. You’re starting to see the team kind of rally around each other.

“Even if the offense is in a lull, the defense is at a point where they just feel if they get it to (the offense) enough they’re going to start moving it up and down the field.

“You kind of saw that in the Houston game. Offense started out a little slow, we started off pretty quick. Then the offense started to pick it up a little bit.

“The overall sentiment was, keep getting (the offense) the ball. They’re getting hot. Then they got hot and we were able to kind of blow it open in the second half.”

 the 49ers had the worst defense in the NFL and the worst defense in franchise history. When Saleh took over the defense this year,Last season under head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, he focused on improving the run defense in particular.

” Saleh said. “To try to get teams to be one dimensional. If you can stop the run,“The whole mindset of our scheme is to eliminate something first, you can get after the passer. So the first thing you do in the scheme is to stop the run. Everything is designed to stop the run.

 the philosophy behind it, we’ve always had a very successful run defense. The way the scheme is built, the detail at which we go over run fits and gap integrity,“Since I’ve been blessed to be a part of the scheme however many years ago (in Seattle and Jacksonville), I felt very confident that we’d be able to improve in the run game.”

 the 49ers defense is allowing opposing offenses to gain just 3.9 yards per carry — seventh lowest in the NFL. Last season,[url=http://www.redskinscheapstore.com/preston-smith-jersey-cheap]Womens Preston Smith Jersey[/url],Saleh was right to feel confident. This season, the 49ers defense allowed opponents to gain 4.8 yards per carry — highest in the NFL.

 who’s in his second season with the 49ers,Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, attributes the defensive improvement to Saleh’s scheme.

 it’s a tremendous change,[url=http://www.redskinscheapstore.com/matt-jones-jersey-cheap]Womens Matt Jones Jersey[/url], attack and be aggressive,“Just having one gap responsibility and being able to not really read but just go,” Buckner said Wednesday at his locker. “Trusting that everybody is going to be in their own gap and do their job. You don’t need to do too much. You don’t need to try to force yourself to make a play. You just make the plays that come to you.”

This Sunday, the 49ers run defense will have plenty of plays to make when it faces the Tennessee Titans. Tennessee’s offense ranks sixth in rushing attempts,[url=http://www.seahawkscheapstore.com/arthur-brown-jersey-cheap]Womens Arthur Brown Jersey[/url], fifth in rushing yards and first in rushing touchdowns.

The Titans have two running backs, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and a quarterback,[url=http://www.seahawkscheapstore.com/steve-largent-jersey-cheap]Womens Steve Largent Jersey[/url], Marcus Mariota, who has scored five touchdowns on the ground.

“They have a large, probably the biggest run-game playbook I’ve ever seen on tape,” Saleh said. “They come at you many different ways.

“Teams are throwing a lot of different things at us in the run game and we feel really good about the way our guys are recognizing different schemes,” he said.

Opponents “haven’t been able to get us into a position where we’re just not really sure what the fit is or what our responsibility is. We feel very sound with the way the players have been executing the defense. This week is going to be a great challenge.”

After missing Sunday’s game and Wednesday’s practice with a shoulder injury,[url=http://www.seahawkscheapstore.com/13th-fan-jersey-cheap]Womens 12th Fan Jersey[/url], right tackle Trent Brown missed practice again on Thursday. It seems unlikely he will play Sunday against the Titans. If he doesn’t play, backup offensive lineman Zane Beadles will start at right tackle for the second game in a row.

Cornerback Dontae Johnson will have to compete to regain his starting job after the team benched him against the Houston Texans.

“Him and (Greg) Mabin are working through practice, if you see him on the field,” Saleh said. “They’re both going to play a lot of football. Mabin has been doing a great job. So,[url=http://www.seahawkscheapstore.com/russell-wilson-jersey-cheap]Womens Russell Wilson Jersey[/url], it’s not an indictment on what Dontae Johnson’s been doing.”

Second-year Giants corner Eli Apple was out of the doghouse and active on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time in five weeks, making his first appearance in a game since Nov. 12 in Santa Clara against the San Francisco 49ers.

“It felt great being back out there with the guys,” Apple, said after the loss. “I told them that, 22, too, during the game.”

Apple appeared to be active because corner Brandon Dixon, was battling heel and hamstring issues. And Dixon did leave the game four snaps in replaced by Apple, while active, who played the rest of the game.

Interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo apparently put Apple’s disciplinary issues aside, most recently Apple’s Thursday accusation that teammate Landon Collins had lied Wednesday about counseling the troubled Apple.

The results were what the Giants probably expected: mixed.

Apple made a few nice plays, including back-to-back stops on 2nd and 3rd downs in the second quarter, suffering a stinger on the second tackle but staying in the game.

On the other hand, 21-10, Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie got crossed up on coverage in the red zone leaving Eagles tight end Trey Burton wide open for a 13-yard touchdown that put Philly on top, late in the second quarter.

“Yeah, he (Rodgers-Cromartie) had jumped my guy’s route and then his guy just kind of stepped over. Just gotta get that communication down, I’m not gonna lie,” Apple said. “I was a little rusty, but I think as the game went on, I got better … It’s all about looking somebody in the face and being accountable and being able to go out there and give your all.”

Apple, the Giants’ 10th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft,[url=http://www.redskinscheapstore.com/preston-smith-jersey-cheap]Authentic Preston Smith Jersey[/url], was listed with injuries at points in his four-game scratch stretch, but he was sidelined by ex-coach Ben McAdoo initially and primarily due to perceived lack of effort on the field and disobedience, as chronicled by a report two days after Thanksgiving that Apple had threatened to walk out on the team over criticism in a meeting.

Apple’s issues moved into the spotlight when he stood and watched and actually backed up as the Rams’ Robert Woods fired past for a 52-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-33 in Week 9 at MetLife Stadium. He then had several poor efforts in the Week 10 road loss to the Niners.

The following Wednesday he had several of his poor plays against San Fran put up on the video screen in front of the team, and teammates reportedly criticized Apple,[url=http://www.redskinscheapstore.com/matt-jones-jersey-cheap]Authentic Matt Jones Jersey[/url], and he reportedly threatened to walk out.

That incident happened on Nov. 15. Apple’s mother Annie underwent brain surgery on Nov. 16. And he proceeded to sit out until dressing Sunday against the Eagles. Apple was born in Philadelphia and played his high school ball in Voorhees, N.J.

There was one second-half play by Apple that was eerily similar of that poor effort on Woods’ TD in Week 9: a Jay Ajayi screen pass down the left sideline that saw Apple back away from the approaching block and therefore provide no resistance on the play.

Apple explained to the Daily News after that it was a tricky play because he was trying to maintain outside contain, forcing the runner inside,[url=http://www.seahawkscheapstore.com/arthur-brown-jersey-cheap]Authentic Arthur Brown Jersey[/url], and with the Eagles’ advantage in numbers it was difficult to get to the ball. But he’ll have to make better efforts on such plays if he wants his career trajectory to change frankly.

49ers coordinator Robert Saleh viewed the game against the Cowboys in October as the low point for his defense.

San Francisco allowed 265 yards rushing, far and away the most this season.

It was an affront to Saleh's core defensive philosophy: Stop the run first.

"The Dallas game still punches me in the stomach, punches all of us really," Saleh said.

But the team has shown stark improvement in six games since. San Francisco's defense is allowing an average of 106 yards on the ground and 3.63 yards per carry. Last season,[url=http://www.seahawkscheapstore.com/steve-largent-jersey-cheap]Authentic Steve Largent Jersey[/url], the 49ers allowed 4.8 yards per rush and 166 per game.

For Saleh, who said 4.0 yards per carry is the benchmark for his defense, that improvement begins with the mindset he instilled when he first began working with his players last spring.

"Obviously, you can get after the passer,[url=http://www.seahawkscheapstore.com/12th-fan-jersey-cheap]Authentic 12th Fan Jersey[/url], if you can stop the run," Saleh said.

"To try to get teams to be one-dimensional. So the first thing you do in the scheme is to stop the run. Everything is designed to stop the run. Since I've been blessed to be a part of the scheme however many years ago, we've always had a very successful run defense."

The 49ers defense is up for a different type of challenge Sunday against the Titans, who feature a dynamic rushing attack with DeMarco Murray and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.

The Titans are second in the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns. Murray and Henry have split carries and combined for 1,[url=http://www.seahawkscheapstore.com/russell-wilson-jersey-cheap]Authentic Russell Wilson Jersey[/url], matching quarterback Marcus Mariota,201 yards. They both have five rushing scores, who's also a prominent piece of the versatile attack.

Mariota suffered a knee sprain in Sunday's loss to the Cardinals but has been a full participant in practice this week. Standout left tackle Taylor Lewan returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session with a back injury.

The Titans (8-5) have lost two of four while Mariota has struggled with turnovers throughout the season. He's thrown 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, dampening the high expectations surrounding Tennessee entering the season.

Mariota's top target is tight end Delanie Walker, who provides the offense a versatile downfield threat to balance the 10th-ranked running game.

"He's a beast and I'm excited for the challenge, if not the best. ... He's their go-to guy. So I know when I'm covering him," 49ers safety Eric Reid said of Walker. "He's probably one of the better receiving tight ends that I've faced this year, just to expect the ball to be coming."

NOTES: 49ers RT Trent Brown (shoulder) missed practice on Thursday for the second straight day. ... DT DeForest Buckner and DT Earl Mitchell were given the day off. ... TE George Kittle is back on the injury report this week while dealing with a lingering ankle injury that caused him to miss the win over the Giants on Nov. 12.