Getting the quarterback on the ground has been an issue for the 49ers in the 2023 season. Naturally with their pass rush struggling, all eyes go to the newly-paid, reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Criticism has been plenty for Nick Bosa, but his teammate Arik Armstead made it clear that the sack numbers aren’t indicative of how Bosa is affecting games.
Bosa last season led the NFL with 18.5 sacks. This year through eight games he’s posted only 2.5, while the 49ers as a team rank 18th in that category. It would certainly make sense to want more from Bosa in terms of getting the QB on the ground, but Armstead believes the DE is still having a dramatic impact on opposing signal callers.
“Bosa affects the quarterback at the highest rate of any player I’ve ever been around in my life,” Armstead said in an episode of ‘3rd and Long.’ “Each game through how guys are trying to block him, literally double teaming him, chipping him – I’ve been all apart of it trying to figure out ways to free him up throughout the game. And I’m rushing with him. So we’re having to go through all these protections and literally, even with all that, he’s still the most effective pass rusher I’ve ever played with.
“And week-in and week-out whether he gets a sack or not he’s affecting the quarterback at a high level and a high rate – getting him off his spot, making them leave extra blockers in protection to deal with him – and so Bosa is still dominating this game at a high level regardless of how the sack numbers look. He’s still playing at an extremely high level and he’s the best I’ve ever been around.”
This isn’t just anecdotal either. Bosa despite the low sack total is tied for third in the NFL in pressures and he’s first in QB hits according to Pro Football Focus. The football analytics site also credits him with four sacks.
So, what changed from last year where Bosa was racking up sacks in bunches? One key is the lack of production from the other DE spot.
Bosa leads the 49ers with 44 pressures. Defensive tackles Javon Hargrave (26), Armstead (20) and Javon Kinlaw (15) are the next three-highest totals on San Francisco. DEs Drake Jackson and Clelin Ferrell are both tied with 14, and more than half of Jackson’s came in the first two weeks. He has zero in the last two games while his workload has been taken over by Randy Gregory (six pressures in three games).
Teams are able to do the type of blocking on Bosa that Armstead laid out in part because they’re not needing to dedicate resources to the other side. That’s where newly-acquired Chase Young should come into play. He racked up 38 pressures and six sacks in seven games with the Commanders per PFF. That along should buoy Bosa’s sack totals as teams start committing more bodies to the opposite side of the defensive line.
Ultimately the most successful version of the defensive line will be one where Bosa’s sack numbers are better than they’ve been, but his low totals haven’t been because of a steep drop off in play.