Robert Saleh
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Robert Saleh’s fiery energy pops out, but the amount of production that he squeezed out of the 49ers defense is just as impressive.

All-time great passing game dominance in 2019

In 2019, Robert Saleh captained the San Francisco 49ers to one of the best defensive seasons in modern NFL history, just two years after taking over a unit that ranked 32nd in scoring defense the season prior to his arrival.

Finishing second in defensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) behind only another historically great defense in the Patriots, San Francisco was particularly unbeatable in the passing game. The 49ers allowed a league-low 169.2 passing yards per game in 2019. That mark was 65.8 yards below the 2019 league average (235.0) – the best margin by any defense in the 21st century.

Every level of the 49ers defense was elite in coverage. San Francisco allowed the fewest receiving yards per game to tight ends (34.5), second-fewest receiving yards per game to running backs (24.9), and fourth-fewest receiving yards per game to wide receivers (130.3).


Altogether, San Francisco also led the league in fewest yards per pass attempt allowed (5.9), fewest net yards per pass attempt allowed (4.9), and fewest yards per completion allowed (9.7). Their defense was extremely adept at making plays on the football, recording a pass breakup on 14.5% of opponent pass attempts, tied for second-best in the league.

This unit stands as one of the most effective pass defenses the league has ever seen.

Overcoming obstacles to achieve massive success in 2020

Saleh’s 2019 season was magnificent, but his 2020 season may have been even better considering what he had to fight through.


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