SANTA CLARA — The stats aren't quite what they're accustomed to, yet evidence is mounting that the 49ers' run defense still is plenty formidable.
In the past three games, the 49ers held the Rams, Texans and Cardinals to an average of 86 yards rushing (3.7 per carry) and one touchdown combined.
That's a marked turnaround from the first three games, when the Packers, Seahawks and Colts gouged the 49ers for an average of 139.7 yards (4.0) and six touchdowns.
Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey said he and his linemates "took it personal" after the Seahawks and Colts combined for 356 yards and five touchdowns rushing in back-to-back games.
"We understand that for us to be a good defense, we have to stop the run," Dorsey said. "I don't know if we placed extra emphasis on stopping the run, but everybody is starting to realize that we have to clamp down on running situations."
The way the 49ers shut down the run each of the past two seasons made it pretty difficult for this year's team to match the standard.
In 2011, the 49ers allowed a league-low 77.2 rushing yards per game and three touchdowns. Last season, those figures jumped to 94.2 and seven touchdowns, respectively.
Even with the recent success, the 49ers are 20th against the run this season at 112.8 yards per game. Also, the Browns are the only team that has allowed more rushing touchdowns than the seven surrendered by the 49ers this season.
Today's game against the Tennessee Titans and struggling running back Chris Johnson gives the 49ers an opportunity to build upon their recent success against the run.
The Titans average a respectable 108.3 yards per game. However, they net only 3.7 per carry and a touchdown every other game. Johnson averaged 3.1 yards and scored no touchdowns the first six games.
Here are five things to watch as the 49ers look to keep streaking against the Titans:
Protect that ball
The 49ers are third in the NFL, scoring 61 points off 13 turnovers, and have forced eight in the past two games. The Titans are pretty good themselves with 13 takeaways turned into 59 points, and Tennessee also is second in the league with a plus-8 turnover margin. The Titans forced five fumbles last week, recovering two.
"They're the best we've seen at clubbing, punching, stripping, lawn mowering, just lodging it out from opponents," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It's always a critical thing to our well-being to have ball security and not turn the ball over."
Draft night memories
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick visited the Titans leading up to the 2011 draft and had a good feeling about the session. But Tennessee selected Jake Locker out of Washington with the No. 8 overall pick, and Nevada star Kaepernick fell to San Francisco in the second round — as the sixth quarterback drafted overall.
"It's something I definitely haven't forgotten," Kaepernick said. "I thought I was someone they were interested in. Whether it was then or later, I didn't know, but it's in the past now."
Titans coach Mike Munchak enjoyed evaluating Kaepernick.
"We knew he'd be a special player because he has such a passion for the game," Munchak said. "He's so big and so athletic, so he's been fun to watch. I've enjoyed watching him play."