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Ask Niners Nation: On The 49ers Defense and Mike Singletary

In the second installment, Fooch of Niners Nation answered my questions about the San Francisco 49ers defense and their embattled head coach, Mike Singletary. Their defense is led again this season All-Pro LB Patrick Willis. And I shouldn't exclude DE Justin Smith, who's one of the best 3-4 defensive lineman in the NFL.

Acme Packing Company: My recollection was that the 49ers pass defense stats at Football Outsiders were very bad after the first couple of weeks, and now they look decent (No. 17 overall). Are they playing better as the season goes on?
Fooch: There are still some question marks, but I'd say the passing defense has played a bit better lately. They have trouble when the pass rush is inconsistent, but Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer appear to be stepping up their game lately. Larry Fitzgerald was held mostly in check last week and Mike Williams was held relatively in check in their loss to Tampa Bay. They don't have superstars at cornerback but they have gritty guys that can handle their business. They can get burned on occasion, but the 49ers could be in much worse shape.

The two safeties do raise some question marks. Dashon Goldson has regressed after his big 2009 season. He's a big hitter but sometimes that can cost him in coverage. The big difference this year is that he's not forcing nearly as many turnovers. At the other safety position, the team promoted rookie Taylor Mays to starting strong safety, but his inexperienced showed and he's since been demoted. Young veteran Reggie Smith is starting at strong safety and doing a fairly solid job. This sounds repetitive, but like the offensive line, we'll really find out how the secondary is performing on Sunday.
APC: Are the 49ers going to be able to pressure Aaron Rodgers? The Falcons had a hard time getting to him last week.
Fooch: Well, right now the leading sack man on the 49ers is inside linebacker Patrick Willis. The 49ers have used him in blitzes up the middle, which is something the Packers definitely want to keep an eye on. He's tied with defensive end Justin Smith for the team lead in sacks and I would argue their sacks are serious hustle plays, as opposed to just blowing through a weak defense.

The best way to describe the 49ers pass rush is inconsistent. Some games they'll get amazing pressure, and other games the opposing QB will seemingly have all day. Football Outsiders actually ranks the 49ers pass rush as fourth in the league, which I find a little bit surprising. However, if they can find a way to get to Rodgers that would certainly be a step in the right direction.
APC: Will Mike Singletary be fired after the season?
Fooch: I like to give strong, solid answers so how about a big fat MAYBE. The 49ers can actually win their division even if they lose to Green Bay. They have three divisional games and conceivably could win the division at 7-9. If they go to the playoffs, I really don't know what happens to Singletary. After the Bucs loss I was convinced he was finished as soon as the season was over. A win always makes me feel better, but at this point it's just easiest to wait until the end of the season to decide.

I think long term it's probably best to go with somebody else. Singletary is a brutally honest, emotional individual and I really wonder if his emotions can really handle the ups and downs of a 16-game season. I don't think there's concern for a lost locker room because even in the struggles it sounds like he's up front with the players. Even when Alex Smith was benched after his injury, he specifically stated how he at least heard it from Singletary and it wasn't any of the behind the scenes drama like when Nolan ran things. Mike Singletary is a good man and I wish things would work out better, but I just don't know if he's cut out to be an NFL head coach.