49ers: Breaking down the Defensive line, “From The Bottom To The Top.”

Niners Live takes a look at the San Francisco 49ers run defense while breaking down the defensive line,” from the bottom to the top.” Featuring the 49ers top graded defensive linemen by Pro Football Focus,”Quinton Dial.”


The Weak Link: Run Defense

You will not win many games in the NFL if you can’t stop the opponents run game.  If a team can run at will on your defense, they control the time of possession, and they force the defense to bring extra defenders closer to the line of scrimmage. Thus leaving wide receivers in one on one matchups with cornerbacks, which is a distinct advantage to the offense.

The San Francisco 49ers run defense is the clearest and most glaring weak link of this 2016 49ers team.  The team ranks 31st in the league, allowing an average of 146.8 yards per game. Via, NFL.com.

Last week against David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals rushed for 157 yards, which is the most in a single game by a running back so far this season.

Why can’t the 49ers stop the run? They smothered Rams Todd Gurley in week one, but have since allowed four straight 100 yard rushers.  The losses of starting ILBs NaVorro Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong to the IR definitely doesn’t help the units cause base on talent. However, the real reason is that they are weak at the point of attack, and in a 3-4 defense, it’s the nose tackle’s job to be strong at the line of scrimmage and not be pushed back into the linebackers.

Starting nose tackle Mike Purcell is not getting his job done.  He is getting pushed around too much, which is allowing gaping holes in the heart of the defense. He also is not disengaging properly from defenders when he’s in a position to make a potential tackle. Purcell via, Pro Football Focus ranking is (43.1) overall grade, run defense 52.4, pass-rushing 45.6 and 193 snaps played. ( sub-par grade).

The 49ers should move DE Quinton Dial to nose tackle to strengthen the run defense.  He has excelled at the position in college and in the pros.  He has the best pro focus ranking, 75.0, on the team and would be able to set the line of scrimmage better than Purcell.

Important to note: (78.3) overall grade, run defense 75.0, pass-rushing 71.5 (Highest on the D-Line overall). {180 snaps played.) Pro Football Focus (paid subscription required). 

Pro Football Focus Grades to note at Glance: 

Arik Armstead- 6′ 7″ and 292lbs, 45.7, overall grade, run defense 38.2, pass-rushing 75.9, {216 snaps played.) Niners general manager Trent, Baalke said Buckner was dealing with a “soft tissue” injury in his “lower body.” Nick Wagoner Of ESPN.
Armstead might need shoulder surgery in the off-season, and the overall consensus has been this has slowed him in production and making an impact on defense.
Deforest Buckner-6′ 7″ and 300lbs, 74.6 overall grade, run defense 54.3, pass-rushing 72.2, {245 snaps played.) Buckner suffered a foot injury and left Levi’s Stadium with his left foot in a walking boot and with the help of crutches. Buckner has been back to practice in a limited compacity. Hopefully, he can get back on track and wreak some havoc on opposing offenses while shoring up his run defense.

Tony Jerod-Eddie 6′-5″ and 301lbs, 47.6 overall grade, 58.5 run defense, 50.3 pass-rushing {12 snaps played.) Hasn’t been productive in limited snaps this year.

Ronald Blair -6′-3″ and 270 lbs, 45.8 overall grade, 51.9 run defense, 50.3 pass-rushing, {59 snaps played. Recap on Blair draft profile via, the team’s website.  Blair needs more reps moving forward to maximize his skill set and abilities.

Blair won the Sun Belt Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2015, finishing his career with 70 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.

Taylor Hart-6′-6″ and 281lbs, 40.7 overall grade,  40.7 run defense, 51.2 pass-rushing {21 snaps played.) 49ers  claimed DT Taylor Hart off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles. (No impact on defense).

Glenn Dorsey- 6′ 1″ and 297 lbs, 48.9 overall grade, 59.2 run defense, 54.7 pass-rushing, {45 snaps played.)

Important to note: anything under a 70 rating is considered poor. 70 rating is considered average, and 80 is above average Dials’ overall grade is on the cusp of above average. If Dial had some help up front on the defensive line, the grade would have been potentially higher. 

Another alternative for Purcell is NT Glenn Dorsey, who is close to 100% after an ACL injury. He was a force on the D-line alongside injured NT Ian Williams for the past two seasons.  He is stronger, holds the point of attack, better tackler and recognizes plays better than Purcell.

The run defense must improve if the 49ers have a chance of turning this season around. The d-line must be stronger at the point of attack, and the team must stop missing tackles. Look for changes in the d-line once Dorsey and Arik Armstead and Deforest Buckner bounce back from injuries.

All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus,49ers.com, ESPN.com , NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author Jimi Payne. Co-Author, Editor Niners.