Football is the ultimate team game. It takes all eleven players on the field to do their job correctly for a play to be successful. While this is true, having great players can help open opportunities by creating favorable matchups. The effect of great players shows up in all aspects of the game, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
None of what you just read is meant to be breaking news, and there are numerous examples of great players helping make others better throughout 49ers history. All one needs to do is look at players such as Ronnie Lott, Bryant Young, Deion Sanders, and most recently, Nick Bosa.
The 1994 defense was solid, but the addition of Sanders played a large part in San Francisco finally getting past Dallas. Having Sanders on the field allowed the 49ers to focus its coverage on other areas of the field and, in turn, helped the pass rush get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
We’ve seen the addition of Nick Bosa in 2019 have a similar effect.
In Bosa’s rookie season, the 49ers pass rush took down opposing quarterbacks 48 times, an increase from only 37 the season prior. They matched that total last season. With Bosa on the sideline in 2020 for most of the season, San Francisco struggled to generate pressure, recording only 30 sacks.
Having Bosa on the field helps to free up the other linemen to make plays. For example, one defensive lineman benefitting from the attention given to Bosa is Arik Armstead. The former first-round pick struggled to reach the quarterback early in his career, recording nine sacks in his first four seasons. In 2019, Armstead broke out, posting a career-high ten sacks in the regular season and earning a five-year, $85 million contract extension.
With Bosa on the sidelines due to injury in 2020, Armstead saw his sack total drop back down to 3.5. Of Armstead’s 28.5 career sacks in his seven-year career, 16 have come during the two seasons he played alongside Bosa.
It should also be noted that moving inside has helped Armstead as well. He has the ability to get skinny and take advantage of interior offensive linemen with his strength and speed.
With Bosa on the field and Armstead rushing from the inside, opposing offenses often cannot help with the other defensive linemen, providing San Francisco’s other pass rushers one-on-one matchups.
Last season this helped Arden Key put together a career season. After coming into 2021 with only three sacks during his first three NFL seasons, Key racked up 6.5 last year to earn a new contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency this offseason. It also helped free-agent acquisition Samson Ebukam match his career-high of 4.5 sacks while rushing off the edge.
During a Tuesday interview on The Jim Rome Show, Armstead was asked how he would describe his on-field chemistry with Bosa and how each player makes the other’s job easier.
“Me and Nick have a great chemistry. Obviously, playing with great players helps you. I think me and Nick go out there and try to dominate together for sure.
“Also, I don’t think people realize that when both of us are out there we have to strategically come up with ways to beat three and four blockers at times. You know, they’re sending chips, sending slides to us and all of these things and we need to put our heads together and come up with ways to defeat it.
“We are both talented players, but we also take the mental approach very important too. Preparing for the games and what teams are going to throw at us is very important as well.”
Armstead’s statement is correct; both are talented players who are critical pieces of the 49ers pass rush. However, Nick Bosa is the key that makes everything run.