Singletary has let defensive staff do its job

Niners coach Mike Singletary has spent a lot more time talking about the team's offense since he was elevated to take over for fired Mike Nolan in mid-October. Singletary and offensive coordinator Mike Martz spend a lot of time together each week talking about the plan of attack. Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame linebacker-turned-coach is letting his defensive staff have plenty of room to do its work.

The 49ers have simplified their defense, abandoning the "hybrid" scheme used under Nolan to focus solely on a 3-4 defense in base downs. As a result, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and his staff are getting a lot more production from the defense.

"It starts with the staff," Singletary said. "Greg, Johnnie Lynn, V.J. (Vance Joseph), Jason (Tarver). I just think those guys are working their tails off to really try and put our defense, looking at the talent level that we have, the personnel ... give them the best chance to win."

The 49ers have risen to No. 16 in total defense. They are giving up 329.9 total yards per game -- only about 3 yards more than the NFL average. The defense has surrendered just five touchdowns in the past four games. San Francisco held St. Louis to one touchdown Sunday in a 17-16 victory.

"We're still not where we want to be, but the best thing that we're doing right now is we're playing our tails off. We're just flying, we're hustling and everybody's a part of it," Singletary said. "Yeah, we're still making mistakes that we've got to correct. Yeah, there are some missed tackles here and there that we've got to do a better job of. To have a defense, to go out there, particularly in the past four or five games and to play the way they played, that's what you want. That gives you a lot of the positive things that you need to see going forward."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--- LB Takeo Spikes has proven to be a good acquisition for the 49ers. Spikes has three interceptions on the season. He recorded his first sack of the season on Sunday against the Rams. Spikes ranks second on the team in tackles behind Patrick Willis with 106 and also has forced two fumbles and has four passes defensed.

--- QB Shaun Hill showed an ability to turn things around on Sunday. Through three quarters, he had thrown three interceptions and coach Mike Singletary said he was benching him. Hill, however, talked his way out of it, and he came through with two TD passes in the final four minutes to rescue the 49ers from what would have been an embarrassing loss to the Rams. For the season, Hill's passer rating is 87.1 with 12 TDs and seven interceptions.

--- QB J.T. O'Sullivan was told he was entering Sunday's game to replace a struggling Shaun Hill. But coach Mike Singletary changed his mind. O'Sullivan lost his starting job earlier in the season after throwing 11 interceptions and losing six fumbles in the first half of the season -- not including another fumble that resulted in a safety.

--- RB Frank Gore missed Sunday's game with a left ankle sprain. It was the second game he has missed because of the injury. It remains uncertain whether he'll play Sunday in the season finale against the Redskins. Gore leads the 49ers with 978 yards with a 4.3-yard rushing average. He has six rushing touchdowns. Gore is closing in on becoming the first player in club history to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

--- RB DeShaun Foster played well in his first start of the season but did not get a lot of action last week in his second start in place of injured Frank Gore. Foster carried for just 36 yards on 12 carries. For the season, Foster has 190 yards rushing on 67 attempts. Although Gore could be back for the final game of the season, Foster likely will see more action than usual.

--- RB Michael Robinson last week was named as a Pro Bowl alternate as a special teams player. Robinson continues to see spot duty at running back, where he has carried 18 times for 48 yards on the season. Robinson has also caught 15 passes for 159 yards.

--- TE Vernon Davis' production as a pass catcher has taken a big hit this season. One year after catching 52 passes, Davis has just 28 receptions for 340 yards and two touchdowns with one game remaining in the season. Davis' hands have been inconsistent. On the bright side, coach Mike Singletary says Davis is the best blocking tight end he has ever seen.

--- WR Bryant Johnson has played well in the second half of the season since getting healthy. He missed extended playing time early in the season with hamstring and calf strains. Johnson ranks second on the 49ers with 43 receptions for 503 yards and three touchdowns.

--- WR Isaac Bruce reached two milestones on Sunday, as he caught his 1,000th career pass and moved into second place all-time in receiving yards. Bruce has come on strong the past five games. He leads the 49ers with 59 catches for 827 yards and seven touchdowns.

--- WR Josh Morgan has returned to action after missing significant playing time with a badly strained groin muscle. Morgan came through with a nice, leaping 48-yard touchdown in the closing minutes of Sunday's game to supply the winning points in a 17-16 victory over the Rams. Morgan has 17 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

--- WR Jason Hill, who became the slot receiver at midseason after taking over for injured Arnaz Battle, has recorded 26 catches for 289 yards and one touchdown on the season. Hill shows that he has a chance to figure prominently in the 49ers' plans for the future.

--- K Joe Nedney has put together a solid season. Nedney has made 27 of 30 field-goal attempts on the year. He is perfect (17 of 17) from inside 40 yards.

--- NT Aubrayo Franklin is one of the reasons the 49ers defense has been playing a lot better. Franklin has been more active in the middle of the line, as the 49ers have done less two-gapping. The 49ers defense is allowing a 3.08 average per carry on runs up the middle. That ranks fourth in the NFL.

--- DE Justin Smith leads the NFL with 122 consecutive starts. Smith last week was named the winner of the Bill Walsh Award, given to the 49ers' most valuable player. Smith rarely comes off the field and is very active, as he leads the team's defensive linemen in tackles. He ranks second on the 49ers with six quarterback sacks.


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