The 49er's defense overachieved last season. This is great, but it saw a dip in production from one of the biggest names on the defense, Arik Armstead. So while you shouldn't focus too much on the numbers, there are still questions to be answered.
People want to focus on the sack numbers and forget everything else Armstead does well. Even I mentioned he could be moved inside with the already deep defensive tackle group. In reality, the Niners do not have an edge rusher consistent with Armstead against the run.
When watching Armstead, I saw that he was dominant at the point of attack, needs more stunts to accelerate his pass-rush, and that everyone undervalues his athleticism. Armstead is currently nursing a groin injury that could sideline him for the preseason. I’m here to show you why Armstead is a high-quality player. In contrast, his contract says otherwise. Armstead has to rebound from an inconsistent year to prove he is worth the money.
Anchor in the run game
As you know, Armstead is more powerful than finesse. Armstead consistently uses his strength to defeat blocks against the run. But, again, his strength is defending the run, so having him at Edge on early downs is essential.
Lined up outside the guard on the first clip, Armstead brushes off the lineman to get a stop on 3rd and 1. Secondly, you see Armstead lockout the tackle to get the tackle for no gain. Again, having the ability to play inside and out is crucial for the run game.
Arik Armstead, the pass-rusher
Being more of a power than finesse player shows up when Armstead rushes the passer. In both of these clips, you can see Armstead be violent with his hands. The rip is one of Armstead’s go-to moves (first clip.) You can see his power in the second clip, Armstead performed a club over.
Armstead saw most of his pass-rush production when the defensive line performed a stunt or twist. Incorporating more blitzes with stunts could confuse offensive linemen to free up defenders.
Another example of a stunt being used is that Armstead finishes the rep with a bull-rush to get the sack. Stunts are good to free up defensive linemen at the same time. Armstead has to expand his pass-rush skillset.
Other ways Armstead can be used and what he needs to correct for 2021
Armstead’s athleticism is pretty underrated. You see him defeat the cut block and make a play on the running back against Arizona. Then you see Armstead drop in man coverage against the Jets.
We could see DeMeco Ryans use Armstead in simulated pressures, where Armstead would drop in coverage in exchange for a DB or LB to rush the passer. I’m not saying to use it often, but it can be an effective wrinkle to affect the passing game and create sacks.
Most of Armstead’s struggles came from plays you would anticipate him to make. Instead, you would see Armstead slip off quarterbacks throughout the season. Armstead rarely gave up containment, but the play against Seattle gave up a huge Russell Wilson scramble. Armstead needs more of the wow plays to justify his contract.
Look, even I was critical of Arik Armstead last season. I would beg for a sack game after game but have to acknowledge that Nick Bosa and Dee Ford’s absence in response to his productivity. Also, most of Kerry Hyder Jr’s sacks were coverage sacks, so it's pretty lazy to use that to downplay Armstead.
San Francisco is relying on the defensive line to be great because the secondary has major questions. Arik Armstead has to lead the charge in that. I expect him to get around 8 to 10 sacks and ideally 10+ tackles for loss. The Niners need Armstead to make the jump to damn near elite if they want to resemble 2019’s defensive success.