• Geoff Castaneda

Arms That Chain Us: Breaking Down the Defensive Line’s Spectacular Performance

Image Credit: Terrell Lloyd/San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers defensive line saw a familiar opponent when they lined up against Lions’ quarterback Jared Goff in Week 1. Controlling the line of scrimmage and making Goff uncomfortable were keys highlighted last week. The 49ers accomplished that in spades, generating three sacks and an interception. While the final score may skew perceptions about the defense’s performance, things become much clearer upon further review.

Run Game Adjustment

Image Credit: Terrell Lloyd/San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers’ defense proved susceptible to Detroit’s “up-the-gut” run approach in the first half. They surrendered 41 yards on six carries to running back Jamaal Williams while D’Andre Swift ran ten times for 38 yards. Some of the Lions’ early success could be attributed to defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw’s absence. The 49ers adjusted at halftime and ultimately surrendered just 116 total rushing yards by game’s end.

They’re Back

Image Credit: CoachYac/Twitter

Midway through the offseason it seemed a forgone conclusion that Dee Ford’s time in the NFL was done. The injury-plagued edge rusher was dominant in 2019. Recurring knee issues tarnished some of his luster and back surgery in 2020 jeopardized Ford’s career. Last Sunday, Ford revitalized the excitement about his place in the 49ers’ defense. According to Pro Football Focus, Ford registered six pressures and a sack in nine pass-rushing snaps. Only consistent production will ease the fanbase’s concerns, but Ford could not of had a better week.

Image Credit: Brian Baldinger/Twitter

Ford’s counterpart, Nick Bosa, also returned Sunday for the first time since early 2020. Bosa started slowly, facing stiff competition from Lions’ 2021 first-round draft pick Penei Sewell. The 2019 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year finished the game with six pressures and a very timely fourth quarter sack. Although Bosa lacked the game-changing impact of his rookie season, there is plenty of reason to expect a return to form at some point in 2021.

Unsung Hero

Image Credit: Jordan Elliot/Twitter

Arik Armstead’s tenure with the 49ers has been contentious. The No. 17 overall pick in 2015 has failed to make a Pro Bowl in his first six seasons in the league. Fans cried foul when San Francisco chose to extend the defensive lineman before the 2020 season and shipped former University of Oregon teammate DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts. Armstead quietly dominated against the Lions. The former Duck terrorized Jared Goff, racking up 10 pressures in 27 pass-rushing snaps. Armstead was solid against the run, and while he rarely dominates any statistical category, he should be recognized for his efforts.

Depth Saves the Day

Image Credit: Terrell Lloyd/ San Francisco 49ers

Detroit’s offense ran 90 plays, with Goff attempting 57 passes. The Lions’ time of possession advantage could have been catastrophic if not for the depth on the defensive line.

Screenshot via NBC Sports Bay Area

Snaps were distributed evenly amongst the 49ers’ reserves. Backups Kevin Givens, Arden Key, and Zach Kerr all registered pressures, and Givens’ continued development eases concerns about Kinlaw’s ongoing knee issues. Similarly, Key will continue to earn playing time and there is reason to believe his production will increase.

Week 1 was far from perfect on the defensive side. Nearly squandering a 28-point lead is never a good thing, and rarely does it end with a win. Amongst the season-ending injuries and shaky second half defense, the 49ers’ defensive line proved they can make the big play when it is needed most. They face a serious challenge in Week 2, matching up against a mobile quarterback in Jalen Hurts and an up-and-coming running back in Miles Sanders. With injuries in the secondary, it will again be up the defensive line to dictate the outcome of the game.

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