DeForest Buckner has held his spot at the top of the NFL defensive lineman snap leaderboard so far this season, but it looks like it might be a bit tricky for him to maintain his supremacy through to the end of the season. For one, his 49ers are a game ahead of most teams in the league. Buckner’s 597 snaps look good against second-placed New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul’s 579, but he’s already had his bye week.
Also, Buckner’s snap percentage through ten games for his team has fallen to 80.95 percent, compared to last season’s 87.2 percent, which is again lower than it was through the year’s first few games. He managed to log 1,005 defensive snaps last year though he missed a game through injury and looks set to clock 955 this year, which does little to diminish the 49ers odds for their next games.
Topping all this off, key reserves set to make their return to the field after the bye including Solomon Thomas, Tank Carradine, and Aaron Lynch and this is bound to have some effect on play, probably meaning more rotation and fewer individual snaps for everyone all-around.
The 49ers have tightened up their defense considerably when compared to their horrible 2016 season showing, but one area, in particular, seems to be lagging behind; third-down defense. Opponents are converting 45.5 percent of their attempts compared to last year’s slightly lower 45.1 percent.
The troubles facing their offensive line – they’re first in pass attempts and incompletions as well as third in punts – aren’t giving the defensive line much time on the sidelines. The 49ers look set to see the season off with 1.181 defensive snaps compared to last year’s 1,153.
The team’s defensive strength seems to lie mainly on the backs of the Buckner-Thomas long-time middle-line duo with support from names such as Foster, Smith, Tartt, Ward, and Colbert boding well for the future continuation of their defensive fortitude (Reid should be here as well, but next season probably won't see him wit the team). This goes towards explaining their poor third-down rate as they get a lot of pressure being applied on opposing quarterbacks but a dismal few sacks off the edge. They will really need to look into this shortfall come draft season.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh wasn’t amused when it was suggested last week that the 49ers defense was having a tough time of late. He pointed out that they were only giving up 3.9 yards per carry which he considered pretty good, going on to make the claim that the 49ers defense, when looked at in totality, was operating at peak efficiency, having vastly improved their numbers in the run game.
He has a point, I think. The 49ers have had the ball run against them 337 times this season, a huge number even when you factor in their extra game. The second team in this category - the New York Jets - have only had 271 attempts against them.
While the yardage they’re giving up per attempt has improved, being ranked 13th overall compared to last place the previous year, they still come in a poor 31st when it comes to rushing defense, a statistic that can once again be laid at the doorstep of their lackluster third-down rates.