Sack-happy Niners on takeaway binge

<P>Don't look now, but the 49ers defense has become a bunch of playmakers. Since the calendar turned to December, the Niners have been forcing turnovers and dragging down opposing quarterbacks better than anybody else in the NFL. </P>

After entering December ranked last in the league in sacking the quarterback, the Niners now have 10 sacks in their past two games. They had a season-high six sacks last week in a 21-0 rout of Miami, when they also recorded three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

"It's pretty simple," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "We're just getting better. We're growing up."

In their past four games, the Niners rank fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks. But they're doing even better in the takeaway department. In that span, the Niners lead the league with 12 interceptions and also are first with 16 takeaways. Cornerback Ahmed Plummer is third in the NFC with seven interceptions and safety Zack Bronson has climbed to sixth in the conference with five. Bronson is second in the NFL with 165 return yards and also is second in the league with two touchdown returns.

Cornerback Jason Webster has three interceptions. Another member of San Francisco's secondary, backup safety Ronnie Heard, contributed to both the sack and takeaway numbers against Miami when he nailed quarterback Jay Fiedler on a blindside blitz, recording on the same play a sack and fumble that was recovered by linebacker Julian Peterson.

The Niners now have climbed to second in the NFC in takeaway/giveaway differential at plus-10, which leaves them tied for fourth in the NFL. Their suddenly rejuvenated pass rush has played a large role in that. Against the Dolphins, each of their starting front four defensive linemen was involved in at least one sack. Chike Okeafor, making his second career start at end, had his best game as a 49er with 2.5 sacks. With the playoffs looming, this obviously is the right time for San Francisco's defense to be responding to the challenge.

 "The two areas that we were talking about trying to improve upon - sacking the quarterback and taking the ball away from people - and over the last handful of games, we are as good as anybody in the league, which is very encouraging," Mariucci said. "We need to finish the season like that, too. Sometimes they come in bunches, and I hope the bunches keep coming."

Niners Digest Top Stories