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DeMeco Ryans on Arik Armstead: “Arik was the key for us last year.”

Armstead changed the season around once he moved inside

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

From Week 10 last season until the NFC Championship game, the 49ers played in 12 games. Arik Armstead logged double-digit snaps from the edge and the interior in each of those 12 games, all while playing at an All-Pro level.

Who better to ask about the value of Armstead’s versatility and what it brings to the 49ers' defense than defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans? This is exactly what I did when Ryans took the podium after the conclusion of Wednesday’s practice. Here was Ryans’ response.

Arik is a very important piece to our defense. Arik was the key for us when we moved him inside, he really took our defense to the next level, and we were really able to play better down the stretch because of his move inside. So having a guy like Arik, who’s done it at a high level on the outside, but who’s unselfishly moved inside, and is still able to perform at a high level, it does help the defense in a major way. His versatility has been great for us, we’re expecting great things out of Arik.

To help paint a better visual of Armstead’s versatility, I put together some cut-ups of Armstead impacting the game from all over the defensive line. Starting with a pressure, he logged from the zero technique (lined up over the center) against the Lions during their week one matchup in Detroit last season.

Armstead dominates this rep, overpowering the left guard as he attempts to anchor against Armstead’s bull rush. What makes this rep even more impressive is that he did it against Jonah Jackson, who was a Pro Bowler in 2021.

The impact goes beyond the pass-rushing ability, and we got a great glimpse of Armstead's importance to the 49ers' run defense during last season’s Divisional Round game against the Green Bay Packers.

Throughout this game, Armstead regularly shaded the guard spot from the 2/2i technique and forced the center to work horizontally before being able to get off the line vertically to block at the second level.

This led to widened gaps for plays to be made by 49ers defenders crashing their run fits from the second level, including this play where he eats up multiple blockers to clear the A Gap for Fred Warner to shoot into the backfield and make this tackle.

Green Bay had no answer for Armstead’s ability to shade from the 2-technique in this game, and it is a major reason the Packers were held to only 67 yards on 20 carries in this game.

Now, moving on to the three-technique (lined up on the outside shoulder of the guard between the tackle), I am going to post a clip from this very same game because I believe it is one of Armstead’s most impactful reps of his entire career. In the fourth quarter, Green Bay held a four-point lead with the ball deep in the 49ers' red zone.

The 49ers' defense had to generate a stop and force a field goal attempt if they were going to have any hope of coming out of this game victorious. Armstead delivers a picture-perfect bull rush on Packers RG Lucas Patrick and brings down Aaron Rodgers for a huge sack on third down to keep the game within one score.

Next, let’s look at the 4-technique (shading over the tackle). During the Week 15 game versus Atlanta, the Falcons faced a third and goal from the 49ers' one-yard line. Then Falcons come out in a heavy formation, with an extra offensive lineman and a tight end flanking the strong side. Armstead is going to be shaded directly across from right tackle Kaleb McGary.

Armstead pulverizes Falcons right guard Chris Lindstrom and works laterally to his left before stonewalling Cordarelle Patterson short of the goal line.

There appears to be a narrative that Armstead’s effectiveness is exclusive to the snaps he is utilized on the interior, but the reality is that could not be farther from the truth. Take a look at this rep from Armstead out of the 9-technique from the 49ers' Week 18 win in Los Angeles.

While speed is extremely important when rushing off the edge, a player of Armstead’s size can still wreak havoc from the outside with a combination of IQ and hand placement, which Armstead does in a masterful way on this rep.

Armstead played like one of the best defensive linemen in football down the stretch last season, and it will be interesting to see how he builds on a very strong finish to his 2021 campaign. One thing is for certain, however, and that is having the ability to slide a player all over the defensive line the way Armstead does is a direct catalyst for the dominance that comes from a 49ers defense looking to make it four years in a row with a top five ranking.