• Bret Rumbeck

Breaking Down The 49ers New and Improved Defensive Line! Oh, and the Typical Offensive Line.

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

Since free agency and the draft, all San Francisco 49er fans have been hearing is about the capabilities of the team’s new defense.

A season-opening performance that included three interceptions and two forced fumbles was a welcome sight for a team starved for turnovers.

It’s one game and not the time for wild assumptions on how Sunday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will spill into the remaining 15 contests. But the game film provides some substance and allows for observation of the 49ers' defensive and offensive lines.

Defensive Line: New, Improved, Aggressive and Functioning

Defensive linemen Dee Ford and Nick Bosa lived up to the offseason hype. Their collective performance from the strongside and weakside edge positions makes it clear what defensive coordinator Robert Saleh had been missing.

Pro Football Focus noted the 49ers tallied four quarterback sacks: Bosa had two, Ford had one and defensive lineman Arik Armstead had one. Bosa had six total quarterback pressures, which led all 49er edge defenders.

1st Quarter: 3rd and 12 at the SF 48 (7:45)

This play alone is proof of what the upgraded defensive line can do with just a four-man rush.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh put the 49ers’ defensive line in an under front. Bosa was aligned wide on the weak side, with Ford in a wide-9 technique on the strong, or closed, side.

The speed from both men coming off the edge was too much for Tampa Bay’s tissue-thin line. Bosa and Ford collapsed the pocket just as quarterback Jameis Winston hit the top of his drop.

Winston hitched up in a muddy pocket and threw an incomplete pass to Dare Ogunbowale.

The play above sums up the humid afternoon for Bosa and Ford. It’s amazing what happens when a defensive line can keep a quarterback on the move.

Of note, I did see Bosa and Ford swap positions, with Bosa playing the strongside edge and Ford playing on the weak side. That’s one reason fans should not get wedded to position names, and embrace a fluid defensive front. Saleh should place his edge defenders where he sees fit, rather than demand one play a specific position at all times.

One storyline that I have not seen yet is the lack of play from defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. He played 12 snaps on Sunday, with three at LEO, six at REO, and the remaining two at defensive tackle. Thomas recorded no tackles or statistics.

I’m not dying on any hill for Thomas to remain an edge defender in Saleh’s defensive scheme. If Saleh wants to play Thomas on edge for a handful of plays to give Ford or Bosa a breather, then that’s fine. But it’s time to move Thomas permanently inside, as the 49ers need to plug up the porous gap in between the guards.

Tampa Bay gained 121 yards on the ground, with 67 yards between right and left guard. Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner had a quiet day, finishing with two tackles. Both defensive linemen D.J. Jones and Sheldon Day registered one tackle.

Offensive Line: A Typical Sunday Afternoon

One could take Sunday’s offensive line film, erase any date stamps, and convince the viewer it was from last year.

The 49ers’ offensive line had a few mean fingers pointed at it for poor play, but the statistics show otherwise.

No 49er offensive lineman allowed a quarterback sack or hit.

Center Weston Richburg allowed two hurries and two pressures, while tackle Mike McGlinchey had two costly penalties, including one that nullified a touchdown.

I was generally unimpressed with the lack of rushing attack, with the 49ers rushing 32 times for 98 yards. There are times the running backs need to make something out of poor blocking. But no running back corps can be expected to do that on each play.

When you’re debating your friends as to why the 49ers’ interior offensive line is going to continue to be the team’s kryptonite, you are welcome to use this example.

1st Quarter: 3rd and 1 at the SF 30 (5:44)

Left guard Laken Tomlinson is not known for his run blocking ability, which is not my opinion, but specific fact. Throughout his career, he’s earned a 59.0 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus.

It’s no surprise that Tomlinson earned a 55.6 run-blocking grade on Sunday afternoon, on par with past performances.

The 49ers interior, not just Tomlinson, is going to be in a third-and-short situation again this season, facing top tier defensive line talent. Plays like this that make me doubt the team’s ability to run inside with any success.

If you take anything from Sunday’s performance, be happy the 49ers had a dominating defensive performance. Applaud the blocked punt early in the game, and rewatch cornerback Richard Sherman’s pick-six. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the defense carry the team to a victory, and that overshadows any nitpicking by experts and amateur writers.

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