If there were a Mount Rushmore for edge rushers, the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys would both be represented. The opposing offense knows where each player is at on the field at all times. Both players have faced the most double teams in the league through four weeks, as Bosa has been doubled 33 percent of the time and Parsons isn’t far behind at 29 percent.
Taking a peek at Parsons
Both players win in different ways. Bosa is quick, technical, and relentless. While Parsons overpowers you with athleticism. Bosa explained to the Bay Area media what makes Parsons such a unique talent:
“He’s very comfortable all over the line. Obviously, gifted athletically more so than anybody I’d say — him and maybe Myles Garrett. But just acceleration. Plays he shouldn’t make, he makes. And he plays with good effort.”
Parsons has a snap at literally every position in the front 7, from a linebacker playing off the ball to a nose tackle lined up over the center. The majority of the time, Parsons rushes over the left tackle. He has 86 snaps as an edge rusher on the right side of the defense compared to 62 snaps on the left side. But let’s not kid ourselves, Parsons isn’t playing a full game’s worth of snaps against Trent Williams.
Let’s look back at the schedule to see where the 49ers opposition lines up their best pass rusher. The Pittsburgh Steelers have an all-everything edge rusher in T.J. Watt. He usually lines up over the right tackle, so Watt playing 46 of his 47 snaps in the same fashion wasn’t an outlier. How about the Rams the following week?
In Week 2, Aaron Donald, a defensive tackle, played more against Colton McKivitz (23 snaps) than he did overall as a defensive tackle (20 snaps). That’s telling. When the 49ers beat the Cowboys in the Divisional Playoff Round last year, Parsons lined up at six different spots. Surprisingly, he played 12 more snaps against Williams than right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
How will McKivitz hold up against Parsons?
But McGlinchey is in Denver. And through four data points, McKivitz has been a noticeable downgrade. Per Sports Info Solutions, out of 137 offensive linemen who have played at least 100 snaps this season, McKivitz’s adjusted blown block percentage against the pass ranks him 132nd.
If you’re curious, McGlinchey is 16 spots above McKivitz, while Colton has been significantly better against the run from a numbers' standpoint. The 49ers have consistently run the ball the best when it’s in the direction of McKivitz, as evidenced by a 4.7 yards per carry behind No. 68. The best way to slow down Parsons and the Cowboys pass rush is a well-balanced rushing attack mixed in with quick passes.
McKivitz is also playing on a two-year contract that guarantees him $2.87 million. This type of team-building allows the 49ers to take swings at players like Christian McCaffrey and Javon Hargrave.
McKivitz is learning on the fly. The more he plays, the better he gets with his angles in the running game and hand usage in pass protection. To his credit, he hasn’t had multiple blown blocks in a game since Week 1. The issue is when McKivitz does make a mistake, it usually ends a drive.
Kyle Shanahan has left his offensive line on an island essentially all season long. There will always be complaints about George Kittle spending too much time as a pass blocker. But those cries aren’t rooted in fact. This year, Kittle has 15 snaps as a pass blocker. So, Kittle blocks three times a game, when the offense is going to take a shot down the field, and they want Brock Purdy to have time.
Kyle Juszczyk only has four snaps in pass pro, while Christian McCaffrey has 13. Shanahan’s answer this season has been to send that fifth eligible into a passing route, use the entire field, and bet that the 49ers skill players — with the assistance of Shanahan — get open before the rush gets to Purdy.
Brock’s been getting the ball out at the fourth-fastest rate. He’s at his best when getting rid of the ball in under 2.5 seconds. Shanahan’s also placing the onus on his quarterback to process the defense quickly enough to keep Parsons at bay.
So how will McKivitz hold up? The answer is that it’s a team sport. Because Spencer Burford, Jake Brendel, and Aaron Banks will all get a taste of Parsons. But McKivitz must be competitive. A couple of “minus” plays aren’t the end of the world. The problem becomes when you have to adjust your entire game-plan for one player.
It’d be naive to act like the Cowboys only have one competent player along their defensive line. They have seven players with at least six pressures:
Dante Fowler Jr.
DeMarcus Lawrence has the third-highest win percentage of any defensive linemen in the league and Parsons is fourth, per PFF. As a team, Dallas leads in the league in pass rush win rate, getting pressure 60 percent of the time. They also blitz at the ninth-highest blitz rate. So, they get Lawrence and Parsons 1-on-1s, and the duo takes full advantage. If not, one of the other three rushers does.
That pressure has led to the type of variance needed to succeed defensively. Dallas has allowed the fewest points per drive in the league and generated the third-most turnovers per drive as a result. Needless to say, the 49ers offensive line and Purdy are in for their greatest challenge to date.
Perhaps the most considerable difference from previous Cowboys’ defensive lines is that the 2023 version is faster than ever. They move at a speed that few if any units do this season. That’ll be the biggest adjustment for the offensive line, as speed is impossible to simulate during practice.
Money in the Banks
Aaron Banks has been better than serviceable as a run defender. The offense can run behind him while Christian McCaffrey rarely has to bounce his carries.
But he’s been money in the bank as a pass protector. Going back to adjusted blown block percentage, Banks has the 12th-highest among any lineman, and shares the same number as Trent Williams. When Williams is tied with you, and Jason Kelce is one spot in front of you, you’re doing something right.
Banks isn’t making mistakes. He’s been a Laken Tomlinson clone, just on a rookie contract. But as is the case with each offense and defense, Banks faces a step up in class in the competition department.