Image Credit: Associated Press
Long before the age of the modem, football fans actually experienced a dark offseason. The only chatter about free agent acquisitions, trades, or draft picks occurred over $1 draft Hamm's beer and baskets of stale Beer Nuts.
As the 2018 season for the San Francisco 49ers slogged on, cries of impending doom bubbled at the surface. Then, once the season officially ended, those cries turned into millions of voices full of loathing, bellowing out for an edge defender.
The 2019 free agency period began to lurk around the corner, and the wailings became screeches!
It is possible that general manager John Lynch was visited by a spirit who told him these tortured screams were the cries of the carrots and waiting to draft an edge player would be unwise.
Therefore, on March 13, 2019, the 49ers inked defensive lineman Dee Ford to a 5-year, $87.5 million contract.
The carrots were quelled, at least for a few days.
The 49ers need more than Ford to move above the .500 mark, but Ford’s acquisition does give the defense a ferocious intensity from the edge, something that feels like a dusty memory from years gone by.
Marsh is Gone, and That’s Not a Bad Thing
Since 2014, Ford has racked up 36 quarterback sacks, 122 hurries, 93 run stops, and 9 forced fumbles. He had a 91.1 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus in 2018.
Also entering the NFL in 2014 was former 49ers defensive end Cassius Marsh. Throughout the same period, Marsh has 13 sacks, 76 hurries, 63 run stops, and 5 forced fumbles. He ended the 2018 season with a 62.3 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus.
If you take nothing else from my commentary, merely look at those stats, and you’ll see what the 49ers were missing last season. They’ve upgraded by nearly 30 points at one position.
Marsh is not a full-time starter in the NFL. It’s a cold, brutal reality, but he’s not a player a defense will build around nor can a coordinator rely upon. The 49ers, for whatever reason, felt they could skate by with Marsh holding down the edge position and it wasn’t a good plan.
Marsh had a hard time controlling the end of the line, often finding himself grossly out of position, blocked out of a play, or lacking any real aggression to force a runner back inside.
In the Week 8 loss to Arizona, the Cardinals handed the ball to running back David Johnson who went left. It was Marsh’s job to shed his block or at least hold steady at the edge. Instead, he was in the worst possible position and did nothing to make an impact on the play.
Johnson gained eight yards.
1st Quarter – 2nd and 7 at the ARZ 12 (1:22)
Finally… Solomon Thomas Will Move Back… Inside!
The known football universe, spanning all 28 known galaxies, is well aware that defensive lineman Solomon Thomas is not a defensive end.
But we are in the Lynch era, and that means forcing players to play out of position, while the executive office sells the media its own genius.
Thomas has not shown fantastic skill playing a 9-technique but has the body type and capability to play a 3-technique.
The 49ers need to stop waiting for transformational lightning bolts to strike players and morph them into metahumans. Ford’s addition now allows Saleh to end the Thomas experiment and keep him inside for good.
That leaves defensive end Robert Blair to pick up the slack from time to time when Ford or a rookie edge defender needs a sip of cold Gatorade.
Blair had a breakout season in 2018, notching 8 sacks, 15 hurries, 21 tackles, and 20 run stops. He doubled or nearly tripled his output from the 2016 and 2017 seasons, which makes him an ideal player in a substitute package.
Anyone who’s played high school football can tell you a good, consistent pass rush does more to win games than a slot receiver. The 49ers’ defense has failed to bring pressure to any quarterback, which then stresses the linebackers and secondary far more than needed.
Winning silver trophies does not begin with trading for Odell Beckham, Jr. or signing Antonio Brown. No, gentle reader, championships are built up front, and John Lynch just added a huge piece to bring a winning record back to the Bay Area.
*All stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
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