Since the moment he put on a 49ers helmet, it has been apparent just how special of a football player Nick Bosa is. Football fans league-wide have had the pleasure of watching the star edge rusher affectionately known as “smaller bear” wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines week after week since he first took the field in 2019, when Bosa put together a historic rookie season.
So what exactly has changed from then until now? Look no further than the way first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has utilized Nick Bosa as a rusher off of BOTH sides of the defensive line, regularly throwing opposing offensive lines a curveball by constantly moving the talented edge rusher from one side to the other throughout a game.
Through 14 weeks of the 2021 season, Bosa is the only player in the NFL who has recorded 6+ sacks from the defensive line's left and right side. This is an eye-popping statistic when you account for the fact that Bosa spent over 80% of his snaps lined up exclusively on the right side of the line during his breakout rookie season in 2019.
In 2021, Bosa has split his reps almost identically between the right and left side, registering 314 snaps from the right side and 309 from the left side. This kind of balanced usage creates problems in-game for opponents and as they attempt to construct a game plan focused on minimizing the effectiveness of one of the best edge rushers in the game.
Matching up with Bosa in any capacity is a challenge for any opposing offense. Still, that challenge is amplified when you have to account for Bosa rushing the passer from multiple positions in a given game. While Bosa did get credit for half a sack rushing from his “natural” spot off of the right side, he found his greatest success in this game against the Bengals when the adjustment was made to put him on the left side of the defensive line.
This game was indeed a perfect example of how versatile Bosa has been, as he started the game lined up on the right side of the defensive line, opposite of Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams (who I would argue is their best offensive lineman) and throughout the game began to regularly shift over to the left side where he was able to exploit what is a much more favorable matchup on paper against right tackle Riley Reiff.
Bosa sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow twice in this game,, rushing from the left side (one was called back due to a penalty on Ambry Thomas),, including the game-changing sack in overtime that held the Bengals offense to a field goal attempt which allowed the 49ers offense to answer with a game-winning touchdown drive.
That pivotal sack in overtime came against Bengals backup right tackle Isiah Prince, who was thrust into action after Reiff exited the game in the second half with an ankle injury. But, again, this comes back to the 49ers' defensive staff displaying a willingness to adapt mid-game and move their best defensive player into a spot where he can take advantage of a glaring weakness on an opponent's offensive line.
On the surface, this may not seem like some profound innovative breakthrough. Putting your best edge rusher in a spot to take advantage of the opposing teams weakest link on an offensive line seems like a no brainer, but it is noteworthy simply for the fact that for whatever reason, there was a reluctance to do so at this rate prior to Ryans taking control of the defense.
The ability Ryans has shown to get creative with his defensive fronts has been admirable all year, and the way he has schemed around injuries (particularly at the cornerback position) deserves recognition. At this point, I am left gleefully wondering what kind of ingenuity Ryans will have up his sleeve once the 49ers defense is fully intact. Until then, I tip my cap to the way Ryans has gotten even more out of an already generational talent in Bosa.