How Whitner thinks 49ers' defense can become more dominant originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
But NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Donte Whitner believes there are a few areas where the unit still can improve after San Francisco’s all-around effort in Week 10.
“Jimmy Garoppolo played phenomenal, dished the ball around like a point guard, got it to the playmakers: Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, all on the field at the same time,” Whitner said for the latest edition of “Hitner’s Hot Take.”
“And the defense, even though they started slow, they shut out the LA Chargers in the second half. Fred Warner was a catalyst for that. They didn’t give up any big plays. Hufanga came away with the turnover, they consistently harassed Herbert.
“If they can develop red-zone defense, third-down defense and get more turnovers, this will be a dominant defense.”
The 49ers’ defense already leads the league with the fewest opponent yards per game (280.6) and is No. 4 in opponent offensive points per game -- just two signs of the chokehold they have on NFL offenses this season.
In the three categories Whitner mentioned, however, there’s room to improve.
The 49ers’ red-zone defense is the best of the statistical trio, but when you dig deeper, it’s clear the unit can perform better when opposing offenses are near the goal line.
In the grand scheme of things, San Francisco’s average of 1.4 red-zone scores allowed per game is pretty good and has the team ranked No. 6 in the league. But when you look at the 49ers’ opponent red-zone scoring percentage (61.9 percent), it’s one of the NFL’s worst (No. 24).
So the 49ers aren’t allowing opposing teams to reach the red zone very often, but when they do, the other team tends to score.
San Francisco also ranks No. 24 in the league in third-down conversions allowed per game (5.6) and has allowed the NFL’s fifth most third-down conversions across the team’s last three games. In total, the 49ers are allowing opposing teams to convert 40.98 percent of their third downs.
And while the team has had some huge turnovers in big games this season, it's still not taking the ball away as much as other defenses. The 49ers are tied for the league’s 19th fewest takeaways per game (1.1), and their -0.3 turnover margin per game is ranked No. 25 in the NFL.
Regardless, the 49ers’ defense has played a massive role in getting the team to its current 5-4 record.
But as San Francisco makes a second-half push for its third NFL playoff appearance in four seasons, they’ll certainly look to improve in any areas they can.