49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil: ‘I’m embarrassed’

You don’t get a coaching job in the NFL by backing down in the face of adversity. But at some point, when things keep doing downhill, even the most confident statements seem hollow.

After a 45-16 blowout against the Buffalo Bills, defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil’s comments are starting to seem as hollow as the log ride the 49ers are splashing down this season.

“I don’t get too wrapped up in the statistic stuff,” O’Neil said. “We’ve got a group of guys that point the finger at themselves. They’re not looking for excuses. So, to me, when you have that in the locker room and you have that in your coaching staff, it gives you a chance to grow because it takes the ego out of it.”

To his credit, O’Neil didn’t inherit the stacked roster of years past. Losing NaVorro Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong to injuries — the team’s top two linebackers entering the year — didn’t help either. Still, it might do O’Neil some good to get more, “wrapped up in the statistic stuff.”

Watching LeSean McCoy rush for 140 yards and three touchdowns was like watching Mike Tyson throw his storied right hook to the body followed by an uppercut to the head. You know it’s coming, but you can’t help but be completely devastated by it.

How, when just about every pocket of internet wisdom predicted a huge total from McCoy against the 49ers, does the team’s defense end up conceding the second-most rushing yards in franchise history? No matter how unpolished the players on the field may be — and make no mistake, they are unpolished — there has to be a serious lapse in game planning and coaching for that to happen.

On one particular 3rd-and-20 play when the 49ers were in a prevent defense, for example, McCoy was able to cut back against an over-committed defense and turn a punting situation into a first down. It was a glaring display of poor fundamentals by at least three different 49ers.

“Some of those situations could be second-and-extra-long or third-and-extra-long where we’re willing to concede some rushing yards,” O’Neil explained of the team’s struggles with defending the run when outside of its base defense. “Obviously, we don’t want to give up first downs in that situation. But, it just goes back to everything. Overall, we’ve just got to be better.”

It wasn’t just the very talented McCoy who slipped through the holes in San Francisco’s defense either. Tyrod Taylor and the rest of the bills running backs combined for 172 yards of their own. Tackling has been an issue for the 49ers all season and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. The run defense was supposed to be a strength of a 49ers team that has invested its last two first-round draft picks in interior defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.

For now, onlookers will have to settle for O’Neil’s word for it that no one in the 49ers locker room is satisfied with the state of his defense and improvements are on the horizon.

“Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed by what happened on this past Sunday,” said O’Neil. “But, I am positive as to where this is going. We’ve got a lot of guys playing for us that don’t have a ton of NFL experience. Every time that they’re out there, they learn so much and those reps are so valuable for them. So, just as we go, it’s going to turn.”

It might not be long until some important fingers — if not his players’— begin to point at O’Neil as the source of the 49ers’ defensive struggles.

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