49ers secondaryAt some point in the near future, I’ll go back to covering teams on the East side of the Bay. But before I do that, I felt compelled to share some words on knock-knock joke that is the 49ers’ secondary.

Of course, as ESPN Stats & Information found, the secondary didn’t always inspire side-splitting laughter (or crying). “In the regular season,”  ESPN notes, “the 49ers allowed only three touchdowns (fewest) on (throws of 10 yards or more) and a 38.7 completion percentage (third best).” Since then, things have gone downhill fast. Or, maybe I should say they’ve gone down field fast.

In the regular season, on passes of 20 yards or more, opposing quarterbacks completed just 16 passes on 69 attempts for 567 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions against the 49ers’ secondary. In the playoffs, they were nine of 17 for 290 yards four touchdowns and one interception. That’s a drastic turnaround. One we can blame on the level of competition, sure. But one we can more appropriately blame on individual players — specifically on Donte Whitner and Chris Culliver.

Donte Whitner

Though he undoubtedly brings a lot to the team, Donte Whitner certainly doesn’t bring coverage skills. Despite what you’re inclined to believe due to his Pro Bowl selection, Whitner wasn’t very good this year. Pro Football Focus rated Whitner as 53rd best safety in football and 68th best in coverage. Unfortunately, for as bad as he was, Whitner saved his worst for last. I’m not just referring to the two touchdowns he gave up in Super Bowl XLVII. No, he had been playing much worse since well before that.

Weeks

 

Snaps

Targets

Rec

Yards

TD

INT

1 – 14

Total

482

32

27

221

6

1

Weekly Avg

37

2.5

2.1

17

.5

.1

15 – SB

Total

122

22

15

185

6

0

Weekly Avg

41

3.7

2.5

31

1

0

In the first 13 games of the season, Whitner allowed a lot of completions, but they weren’t of the crippling variety. Since Week 15, nearly half of the passes completed against Whitner went for touchdowns. From looking at the weekly averages, it would appear as though New England figured out a blueprint for targeting Whitner, and other teams copied it. Then again, perhaps Whitner has been playing through injury or fatigue. Whatever the case, he was bad in coverage. Really bad.

Chris Culliver

For as bad as Whitner‘s collapse was, Culliver‘s was even greater. In the first 13 games, Culliver was one of the elite cover corners in the NFL, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 42.8% of passes targeted at him.  In the last six games, quarterbacks completed nearly 67%.

Weeks

 

Targets

Rec

Yards

TD

INT

PD

1 – 14

Total

56

24

256

2

2

8

Weekly Avg

4.3

1.8

19.7

.2

.2

.6

15 – SB

Total

39

26

487

3

1

2

Weekly Avg

6.5

4.3

81.2

.5

.2

.3

Both of his pass defenses from Week 15 through the Super Bowl came against Baltimore. Despite two passes defensed, Culliver still had nearly one of his worst games as professional. He was clearly being targeted by the Ravens, and for good cause. I am frankly stumped by Culliver‘s performance. Perhaps, like Whitner, the Patriots’ blueprint proved too perfect for the 49ers or Culliver to adjust to. Maybe Culliver was dealing with an injury. Still, there is no excuse for the steep decline in  Culliver‘s level of play. The 49ers just better hope it’s repairable.