The 49ers have invested an inordinate amount of resources into its defensive line. As is the case with any team, some of those investments have worked while others fell flat on their face.
San Francisco entered the season thinking their starters upfront would consist of Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Jones, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford. But add in a handful of capable backups, and you’d have the best defensive line in the NFL.
We’re heading into Week 14, and Ford hasn’t played 100 snaps while Kinlaw hasn’t reached 150 snaps and is out for the season. Kyle Shanahan is hopeful Ford returns to practice Thursday, but he hasn’t played in nearly a month and a half.
Injuries up front have forced the Niners to shuffle some bodies around. Armstead has kicked inside and is effectively Kinlaw’s replacement. Wednesday, Shanahan called Armstead a “problem,” whether he’s playing inside or out:
“I think it depends on the type of play, the type of things you’re doing. Offensively, just me going against him, I think he’s more of a problem inside. It’s just harder to avoid those guys and harder to gameplan, but I know the problems he causes when he is on the outside too. I think that’s one of the neat things about him that you can put him where you think helps schematically, with whatever switch you’re going against, and he could be a problem both places.”
Armstead had an impressive tackle for loss against the Seahawks and hit Russell Wilson twice to go along with four tackles.
If you isolate the defensive line’s performance, they were excellent Sunday. D.J. Jones played his best game, per Shanahan:
“I think D.J. played one of his best games versus Seattle. I think D.J.’s always played at a pretty high level, I think he’s stayed healthy this year. He’s gotten hurt and finished the year in IR back to ‘19. He was one of our biggest losses there. I think we lost him in the New Orleans week for the year. And I know we lost him last year, but when D.J.’s out there, he’s pretty much always the same guy.”
Charles Omenihu added a quarterback hit. You name it, and they made a play. Here’s a video of the 49ers defensive line wrecking Seattle’s offensive line:
The discourse around the defensive line is that it’s Nick Bosa and everyone else. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We have to give credit to DeMeco Ryans for using his athletes and putting them in a position to win.
In the video above, I explain how Ryans tweaked his defense since Javon Kinlaw went out. The 49ers now align their defensive tackles in “Double 3’s.” Originally, Kinlaw/Jones would play as a 1-technique, meaning they’d align in the A-gap or on the shoulder of the center. Now, both Armstead and Jones are primarily lining up on the guard's outside shoulder.
This gives each player a two-way go. Now, you’re not limiting Armstead. There’s an embarrassment of athleticism upfront, and by spreading the line out, you make it impossible for the offensive line to get double teams or get proper angles on the defensive line.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a discussion without boasting about Bosa. He leads the league in double-team rate but is still second in sacks and third in sack percentage.
Got a bunch of requests to update the edge rusher double team rate X PRWR chart, which warms my heart. Especially by Browns and Steelers fans debating Myles Garrett vs. T.J. Watt.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 9, 2021
Happy to oblige! pic.twitter.com/NnTA0Sf76F
Xavier will give you four reasons why the 49ers will beat the Bengals next. And while there’s no arguing Cincy has the advantage offensively on the perimeter, San Francisco’s physical style of play and horses up front should be the difference in the game.