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SF 49ers: It’s time to fire defensive coordinator Robert Saleh

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After a disappointing start to the season from the SF 49ers’ defense, it is time to fire defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

SF 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has come under fire for the team’s abysmal defensive showing against quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Miami Dolphins in Week 5.

The Niners lost 43-17 to a team that, until recently, was the laughingstock of the NFL.

Some of Saleh’s criticism came from NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Donte Whitner, a former Niners defensive back, who criticized Saleh specifically for his use of Brian Allen in Allen’s first NFL start while appearing on KNBR 680 shortly after the game:

Perhaps the most important statement Whitner makes in this video is “show me that the success of this defense is not only based on having individual great players.”

I would argue that for not only Week 5’s loss, but also the majority of Saleh’s time with the 49ers. The defense’s success has relied on individual great players more than Saleh’s coaching.

For this reason, as Week 5 proved, it’s time for the 49ers to move on from Saleh and search for a defensive coordinator who can put his players in positions to succeed, not just rely on their talent.

Last season, there was much speculation over whether or not Saleh would leave for an NFL head coaching job, leading to relief when he ultimately stayed with the team. At the time, I remember thinking, “this isn’t a very big deal, Saleh is a mediocre coordinator who succeeds when he has healthy, talented players, and fails to coach up his defense when the talent is less than stellar.”

After all, there was significant pressure to fire Saleh after the Niners’ rough 2018 season.

Now, this claim probably seems outlandish. The 49ers went to the Super Bowl last season largely on the back of a dominant defense, coached by Saleh. But, there’s a convincing case.

 

Specifics why SF 49ers would be better without Robert Saleh

Let’s take a look at the players Saleh was coaching last season. The 2019 49ers defense included stars like pass-rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, who were not on the Niners the year before. Additionally, linebacker Dre Greenlaw proved to be a star last season, and fellow linebacker Kwon Alexander was dominant when he was healthy. All of these players can and should be considered individual great players.

And with these players, as well as many other SF 49ers superstars, the defense thrived. According to Football Outsiders, the 49ers were the second-best defense in 2019. They boasted a dominant defense on the back of individual great players, most notably Bosa.

But the season before, the Niners lacked Bosa, Ford, Greenlaw, Alexander, and other defensive studs. That season, they were the NFL’s 24th ranked defense, again according to Football Outsiders.

So, Saleh’s defense performed a lot better in 2019 with a superior roster than in 2018 with an inferior one. Now, obviously, Saleh cannot fully be blamed for an inadequate roster. Good coaching can only overcome so much lack of talent. My argument is simply Saleh should have been able to coach that defense to perform better.

For example, look at the SF 49ers rushing offense in 2018 and 2019. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the most respected offensive minds in the NFL and is particularly renowned for his ability to design an effective run game. The team’s offensive personnel significantly improved from 2018 to 2019 as well, most notably with the return of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from his ACL tear.

Obviously, Garoppolo does not directly impact the run game, but his absence made it easier for defenses to prepare for the run, without the threat of his passing. And yet, according to ESPN stats, in 2019, the 49ers finished second in the NFL in rushing. And in 2018, they finished 13th.

That is a significantly smaller drop than the Niners’ defense and shows how coaching can make up for a roster’s inferiority.

Saleh’s defensive coaching did not make up for his roster’s inferiority. Instead, Saleh’s defense performed well after an infusion of superstar talent and was likely also bolstered by the hiring of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. Now, the 49ers find themselves without some of that superstar talent, and Saleh’s poor coaching is showing itself again. Saleh has consistently called poor coverage this year, and as with Allen, put his players in situations to fail.

Next: 5 targets for 49ers at 2020 NFL trade deadline

At this point, the 49ers should look to move on from Saleh. Week 5 proved he is not capable of coaching this defense through its injuries. Perhaps the Niners should look to promote Kocurek, or they could wait until the end of the season and look to hire during the traditional offseason coaching carousel.

Either way, if Saleh can only succeed when his defense is full of superstars, it’s time to bring in a coordinator who can coach his defense to success when those superstars are injured.

NFL Football

Atlanta Falcons prediction: Can the birds get their first win of the year?

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The Atlanta Falcons are back in action for the first time since firing Dan Quinn.

At 1-4 the Minnesota Vikings aren’t much better than the 0-5 Atlanta Falcons. This has all the makings of a really bad pillow fight among two teams that had Super Bowl hopes coming into 2020.

This will be the fifth time that these two teams have met over the last seven NFL seasons, the Falcons are 0-4 in the previous four meetings. The Falcons last win against the Vikings came in 2011 when Matt Ryan threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns.

Here is how the staff at Blogging Dirty thinks the game turns out.

Jeff Benedict – Site Expert

When these two teams met last season, I was shocked at how bad the Atlanta Falcons had looked. Minnesota jumped out 28-0 and never looked back.

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook evolved into one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league and while he was able to rush for 111 yards, he didn’t embarrass the Falcons like he did other teams across the league.

He will be out Sunday, which is a big advantage for the Falcons.

This Vikings team is much different on the defensive side than they were a year ago and I think the Falcons will be able to take advantage of that.

I think Raheem Morris starts his Falcons coaching career with a win.

Joe Beasley – Contributor

I expect the Falcons to play with some type of fire. If interim head coach Raheem Morris wants a shot at this job or any other head coaching gig, he has to show he can somewhat fix this mess in Atlanta.

The offense does get Julio Jones back which is good for everyone except a young Vikings secondary. Add that to the fact that Dalvin Cook isn’t playing and you have a perfect storm for the Falcons to get their first win.

Besides, I’m bound to get one of these right.

Justin Churchill – Contributor

Last week the Vikings were close to beating the Seahawks. They have a very good offense but may struggle without Dalvin Cook in the backfield.

Their defense will give up a lot, hopefully allowing Todd Gurley to get back into a groove. However,  I think the Vikings will win this one.

Ross Terrell – Contributor

It’s officially a new era in Atlanta. Maybe just maybe Raheem Morris was gunning for this job the whole time. So he sabotaged Quinn to get his shot as head coach. Or maybe the Falcons downward spiral will continue.

Let’s hope the latter isn’t true and the Atlanta Falcons finally pull themselves off the mat.

Next: Falcons have a chance to get out of sports purgatory

Ethan Johnson – Contributor

The Atlanta Falcons will not win this game. The team may come out inspired and rejuvenated, or heartbroken because their coach is gone.

Either way, it doesn’t really matter because they haven’t beaten the Minnesota Vikings since 2011, and that streak won’t end Sunday.

 

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Buffalo Bills: 4 defensive tackles to consider trading for this season

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Buffalo Bills

Sep 22, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) jogs off the field following his sack of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (not pictured) during the first quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

These are four defensive tackles the Buffalo Bills should consider trying to trade for before the trade deadline.

The defensive line for the Buffalo Bills went through a significant change this past offseason. They saw free agents Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson leave in free agency but the front office replaced them with Vernon Butler, Quinton Jefferson, and Mario Addison as well as selecting A.J. Epenesa in the second round.

In addition to those offseason moves, the Bills had last year’s starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei elect to opt-out of the 2020 season due to concerns around the pandemic.

After six games, it is clear that the changes have caused this defense to take a step backward stopping the run and the front office may need to look outside the organization on how to correct this.

The focus for general manager Brandon Beane should be to look for someone similar to Lotulelei in terms of a zero tech defensive tackle that can eat up space and take on multiple defenders. This will help force running backs into fewer lanes but also free up Tremaine Edmunds and the rest of the second and third-level defenders clear running lanes to get to the ball carrier.

These are four defensive tackles that could be available for a trade that makes sense for the Buffalo Bills.

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4 tight ends the Carolina Panthers should target in the 2021 NFL Draft

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Carolina Panthers

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Ian Thomas

Which college prospects are emerging as early draft candidates for the Carolina Panthers at the tight end position?

The Carolina Panthers clearly have a need at the tight end spot which needs to be addressed next spring. They are getting next to no production from either Ian Thomas or Chris Manhertz through six games of the 2020 season and this is a stark contrast to what the team got from prolific veteran Greg Olsen for so many years.

It’s hard to deny that this isn’t what the Carolina Panthers expected coming into the season. They had high hopes for Thomas to step up and fill the void left by the Pro Bowler, who opted for one more shot at a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks before inevitably taking up a broadcast position next year.

Thomas hasn’t lived up to his billing this season. He has accumulated just six receptions, 39 receiving yards, and one touchdown from 11 targets, which simply isn’t good enough if the former Indiana standout wants to make a real go of things from a starting role.

Although all hope isn’t lost, he is clearly skating on thin ice.

There were fewer expectations on the shoulders of Manhertz. The veteran is seen as more of a blocking tight end and has aided the Panthers in this area. This has been of particular use to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Mike Davis, depending on what play is called by Joe Brady.

If things continue as they are then this might be priority No.1 for the Panthers once the dust has settled on the 2020 season. Whether they bring in a veteran during the free agency period is up for debate, but there are plenty of exciting tight end prospects entering the 2021 NFL Draft that will also warrant consideration during the evaluation process.

Let’s take a look at four players at the position who could come into Carolina and potentially make a big impression.

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