It's not just the offense that's struggling

Patrick Willis (AP/Dave Martin)

So much attention has been focused on the offense, but the defense's numbers have fallen off from a year ago. Opponents are zeroing in on LB Patrick Willis, and NT Aubrayo Franklin is feeling the effects of missing training camp, coach Mike Singletary says.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – A year ago, it was the defense that served as a kind of anchor for the San Francisco 49ers. The team ranked sixth in the league against the run and was just one of three teams to allow fewer than 300 points in the NFC.

A lot can change in a year. This season, the 49ers rank 18th in the NFL against the run, 21st against the pass and have allowed 130 points in five games, more than any team in the conference except the Arizona Cardinals.

It's pretty much the same defense – Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle, Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker, Justin Smith at tackle – everybody but safety Michael Lewis. So what's happened?

Coach Mike Singletary believes opponents are getting more precise in their game planning for Willis, who is one of the best linebackers in the game, and that Franklin, who missed most of training camp before finally signing his $7-million tender, is still getting up to speed.

"Sometimes, when a guy doesn't go through training camp, it shows," Singletary said of Franklin. "But he's continuing to make progress. He'll get to where he needs to be, and we'll get there together."

Franklin, however, believes the time he missed in camp may have been good for him.

"I feel that my play is the same where it picked off last year," he said. "I don't think there's no drop-off or nothing. My body feels better missing training camp. I think I'm right where I should be."

Maybe, but the defense isn't. In part, that's because teams know they must account for Willis.

"I think teams realize that Patrick is a guy that they have to get on," Singletary said. "They have to put a hat on him. I think sometimes it looks like the offensive line when it's a tight end, when it's a receiver coming down cracking on him. But teams have made a decision that, if we're going to run the ball, we have to get a hat on 52. So I don't think it's just a matter of the defensive line letting guys get to him."

IMAGE PROBLEMS? Singletary was asked if he was concerned about his image following his outburst on national TV Sunday night. His anger was directed at quarterback Alex Smith, who fumbled the ball avoiding a sack and was nearly pulled from the game.

Former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden told a local radio station that scenes like that make him cringe. "That's not what coaching is," he said.

Singletary's response: "I don't really get caught up in my image. My image, depending on who you're talking to, it's going to change every day. Just so that I know that I'm consistent. I know that as a coach, the most important thing is that when I see something that needs to be done, that I do it, that I don't start thinking, ‘What are people going to say? What is my image going to be?' I don't really care about that much."

CAULCRICK BACK: Fullback Jehuu Caulcrick, who was released on Tuesday when the 49ers made several roster moves, was re-signed to the practice squad. Cornerback Tramaine Brock, who was waived, had not cleared waivers by the time practice started Wednesday.

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