Postseason football is officially upon us, and for the second time in as many seasons, the San Francisco 49ers will be participating in it. So fire up all the cliches about January football and how different the game is when the stakes are raised as high as they are during the postseason.
As cliche as those sayings can be, the sentiment behind them remains as true as ever. Almost every team that qualifies for the postseason could be considered a good team, but what separates the great teams from the rest of the pack is having players who are able to take their game to the next level when the lights are the brightest during playoff competition.
The recipe for the 49ers' recent postseason success starts with their ability to dominate up front in the trenches, something that is a direct result of having a pair of game-changing players on the defensive line.
Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead have been the de-facto leaders on the defensive line over the last three years, and both hold the distinguished honor of being team captains. Their leadership and on-field contributions have been invaluable to the 49ers, but one area where they have truly shined has been their performance in the two playoff runs the 49ers have made in recent seasons.
Both Bosa and Armstead made their playoff debuts in 2019 and since then, have appeared in six playoff games over that span. These two completely changed the trajectory of the 49ers' entire seasons during these playoff runs, and I would argue they have been the franchise's two most valuable players in the six postseason games in the Kyle Shanahan era in San Francisco.
Let’s start with Bosa, who has taken the regular season abilities that have him on the brink of winning a defensive player of the year award and somehow managed to elevate to an even greater level come playoff time. Here are Bosa’s numbers in the six playoff games he has appeared in:
- 8 sacks
- 35 pressures
- 10 QB hits
- 5 TFL
That is a per-game average of:
- 1.3 sacks
- 5.8 pressures
- 1.6 QB hits
- 0.8 TFL
Bosa has been a force of nature in his playoff career, laying waste to many offensive linemen that have stood in his way of getting after the opposing team's quarterbacks. Perhaps no performance is more indicative of Bosa’s postseason greatness than what he was able to do in Super Bowl 54.
Bosa had 12 pressures in that game and likely had the inside edge on a Super Bowl MVP before the 49ers suffered a heartbreaking collapse in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
The 49ers' star edge rusher has logged multiple pressures and at least one sack in every single playoff game he has appeared in and has logged five or more pressures in four of those six games.
Bosa has caused sheer and utter destruction when the stakes have been the highest, and much of that damage was done in his debut season. The scary thing for any postseason opponents the 49ers will face on their current run is that Bosa is demonstrably improved from that earlier version of himself that already had proved to be a game-wrecking talent at the highest level of competition.
While Bosa’s postseason success might not come as a surprise to some, the numbers behind the domination that Armstead has had in the postseason are likely to raise a few eyebrows. Here are Armstead’s numbers from his six postseason games:
- 5 sacks
- 18 pressures
- 9 QB hits
- 4 TFL
Armstead has been a dominant force in postseason play and has registered a sack in four of the six games he has appeared in. Beyond just the box score numbers, Armstead can also stake a claim to one of the most impressive individual postseason performances in the history of the 49ers franchise.
The impact that Armstead had in the 49ers' 2021 divisional round win in Green Bay transcends greatness. While it is hard to put into words just how special Armstead was that day on the frozen tundra, I did my best to do so with an in-depth breakdown of his performance that day which you can read here if you are so inclined.
I put together some cutups for your viewing pleasure to showcase a couple of the postseason sacks from both Bosa and Armstead. I’ll start with a couple from Bosa, the first of which was a memorable play when Bosa sent Levi’s Stadium into a deafening silence after remaining on the ground after taking down Kirk Cousins.
It turned out to be a false alarm as Bosa had just had the wind knocked out of him, but the resounding “BOSA!” chants that echoed throughout the stadium as he got back on his feet felt like something out of a movie. Here’s the sack, with Bosa beating the right tackle with a rip move to get this rush home.
2019 Divisional round vs Minnesota— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 11, 2023
Bosa beats the RT with a rip move pic.twitter.com/znkOIoQnwi
Here is another postseason Bosa sack, this time from the 49ers' thrilling win over Green Bay in the divisional round. With the Packers knocking on the door deep in 49ers territory, this strip sack by Bosa forced a field goal attempt, one that ended up being blocked by Jimmie Ward and keeping the deficit at one score going into halftime. Bosa beats the right tackle with a textbook chop move on this rep.
2021 Divisional round @ Green Bay— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 11, 2023
Nick Bosa beats the RT with a chop move pic.twitter.com/sTgjXLnZtC
Now here are a couple from Armstead that highlight the versatility that makes him such a valuable player. The first is from the 49ers' 2019 divisional round game against the Vikings, and it has Armstead lined up as a defensive end in the 7-technique. Armstead wins with a club move and brings down Cousins for a big loss.
2019 divisional round vs Minnesota— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 11, 2023
Arik Armstead with a club move to beat the RT pic.twitter.com/5of6c4lB3o
This next one came later in the 49ers' 2019 playoff run, in the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. This time Armstead is kicked inside, lined up as a 3-technique. Armstead beats the left guard with a stab lift before sacking Aaron Rodgers for what was one of the final finishing touches to precede the game-sealing interception by Richard Sherman.
2020 NFCCG vs Green Bay— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 11, 2023
Arik Armstead beats the RG with a stab lift pic.twitter.com/uF1eQMU1zt
This last one also came against the Packers, a team Armstead has wreaked havoc on in his postseason matchups against them. What makes this one so special is the timing and the momentum shift that resulted because of it. With the Packers up 7-3 and time running out, Green Bay was deep in 49ers territory with a chance to push the lead to double digits and all but put this game away for good.
On third down, Armstead clutched up and hit Packers right guard Lucas Patrick with a devastating bull rush before bringing Rodgers down for a sack that forced a field goal attempt. That kept the lead at one score, which allowed the 49ers to equalize on the Jordan Willis blocked punt that was run back for a touchdown. When the 49ers needed a play the most, on the road in the playoffs against a tough opponent, Armstead delivered.