Hit It and Quit It: Can the Defensive Line Build on Their Success Against Seattle?

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

For the second time in three weeks, the 49ers are preparing to face off against division rival Seattle. The first matchup was a one-sided affair with the Seahawks winning 43-16. The 49ers had limped into that game coming off their worst performance of the year in Tampa Bay. This time around, they get the Seahawks at home after a win over the Denver Broncos.

The 49ers’ defensive line played one of their best games of the season as they held the Broncos to just 14 points, below their average of 26.3 points per game over their previous six games. Broncos quarterback Case Keenum, under consistent pressure, was hit nine times and sacked twice. Running back Phillip Lindsay averaged just over two yards per carry with his longest going for only five yards. The 49ers’ front established the tone for the game from the very beginning and did not relent until the final whistle.

The biggest change the defensive line saw was the switch at nose tackle Earl Mitchell to D.J. Jones. Head coach Kyle Shanahan addressed playing the younger Jones in a press conference on Monday. “It came a time and had to sit Earl down and tell him it was nothing against him but we needed to see what D.J. can do.” Jones took advantage of his newly-found playing time by recording a pair of run stops and a quarterback hit. Jones wasn’t the only young defensive lineman to stand out against the Broncos. Ronald Blair III registered a sack, a QB hit and a tackle for a loss. The trio of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas combined for four QB hits and opened lanes for linebackers and defensive backs to shoot into the backfield to make plays.

Seattle enters Week 15 with the top rushing attack in the league, averaging 153.8 yards per game. Their passing offense, on the other hand, is ranked 29th with only 193.3 YPG. The only teams that average fewer passing yards are the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, all of whom are trotting out rookie quarterbacks. The Seahawks’ offensive line has outperformed expectations and paved the way for running back Chris Carson to lead the rushing attack. QB Russell Wilson is always a threat to scramble to either extend the play until a receiver comes open or take off and run the ball himself.

In order to build off their win against the Broncos and avoid a similar outcome from Week 13, the 49ers’ front will need the pass rush to hit home with consistency. They were able to register three sacks and seven hits on Wilson in their last meeting but his ability to extend plays resulted in multiple chunk plays. The secondary is young, short-handed and needs help from the front to in order to keep the Seahawks’ talented wide receiver corps in check. Perhaps more importantly, the DL will need to penetrate the backfield to stifle the Seahawks potent run game. D.J. Jones should once again see an uptick in playing time as the team’s primary run stopper.

The remainder of the season is an audition for many young players. The defensive line group is one of the most competitive and players will need show they deserve a spot on this team moving forward. Building off the momentum of Broncos game could be a good first step.

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