There is a big difference between picking up easy sacks against a terrible offensive line and executing a gameplan. The San Francisco 49ers have had issues with the pass rush for a long time, issues that were glaringly obvious even when they faced bad offensive lines.
On Sunday, they faced a bad offensive line in the Arizona Cardinals. They put up a whole mess of sacks, and looked great doing it. Many will chalk that up to playing against an extremely poor offensive line and that’s fair, but sleeping on the development of San Francisco’s young defensive front would be a mistake from where I’m sitting.
The aggressiveness that the line showed made me excited, personally. I thought everyone looked great collapsing the pocket and pursuing Carson Palmer far beyond that of simply shredding a poor offensive line.
The 49ers had six sacks against Palmer — seven actually, with the final one being negated due to the 49ers accepting a Cardinals holding penalty. We’re going to take a look at all seven, starting with the first three below. Let’s get into it.
3:10 in 2nd Quarter: 3rd and 10 from SF 37: Palmer sacked at SF 30 for -2 yards (Solomon Thomas)
The real damage on this play is done on the left side of the line. The 49ers get through on that side and Palmer has to step up through the pocket. He pump fakes, and then is dragged down by Thomas. So why was he pump faking?
The 49ers are running with every Cardinals receiver. One eventually gets a very narrow gap in the zone, right about the time Palmer pump fakes. It was a wise decision not to make that throw, because three 49ers are capable of collapsing on that spot. He ate the sack. Good coverage from the 49ers overall, I think.
7:34 in 3rd Quarter: 3rd and 4 from SF 25: Palmer sacked at SF 32 for -7 yards (Deforest Buckner)
Look at what Buckner does on this play and believe me when I say this: he’s been doing almost this exact thing probably seven-to-eight times per game this season. He’s been shrugging past his man and getting pressure. It just so happens this time, Palmer didn’t get the ball away and Buckner was able to swallow him whole.
Only one Cardinals receiver is remotely open while Palmer still has a hope of letting the ball go. To be fair, that receiver is the underneath option who is probably in range to make the first down. But Palmer isn’t looking in that direction and the other routes haven’t developed. I suppose the receiver that stops at the 18-yard line nearer the top of the screen could be thrown to with a hard outside pass, but it’s a risky one to make because the 49ers defender is sticking to him well.
9:09 in 4th Quarter: 1st and 10 from SF 17: Palmer sacked at SF 24 for -7 yards (Eli Harold)
Well, I didn’t go with the coaches film on this play because it happens so quickly. As discussed above, the 49ers got to Palmer in under 2.5 seconds four times in six sacks on Sunday. This was one of them. Harold simply gets around the left tackle and brings Palmer down. Pretty much everyone got penetration on the play, though.