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Nick Bosa adjusting to offenses’ increased focus, and two moves he plans to add over summer

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports


By the end of Week 8, Nick Bosa wasn’t just the Rookie of the Year, he was the Defensive Player of the Year. With seven sacks, an interception nearly returned for a touchdown, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, he was exceeding all expectations, even for his No. 2 overall draft slot and family pedigree.

But sometimes, “chip happens”

In the ensuing three weeks against the Arizona Cardinals (twice) and Seattle Seahawks, Bosa failed to register a single sack. The aligning factor of those games were mobile quarterbacks, coupled with increased attention on Bosa from offenses. He was double-teamed frequently and chipped maybe just as much. This hit below by Larry Fitzgerald may be the best example of what was thrown Bosa’s way:

Bosa and Fitzgerald had a brief conversation following the block.

“After that he ran up to me said, ‘Sorry man I gotta slow you down somehow.’ I was like, ‘Well, shit, you did. It worked,'” Bosa said.

He was warned.

“We told him it was going to be coming,” said DeForest Buckner, who said he recalls starting to get a similar treatment towards the end of his second season, and into his third.

There’s no proper recipe for the chipping and double-teams, Buckner said, and it’s especially difficult for players in the first few games when teams start to implement those plans.

Dee Ford told KNBR he started to get chipped and double-teamed in his third year. Like Buckner, he said it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience.

“It is [frustrating] because it does hurt your sack total. But it’s respect,” Ford said. “But yeah, it can be very frustrating and a lot of what people don’t see, a lot of people just say, ‘Hey he only has X amount of sacks,’ but that’s blind.

“You’re not really watching tape understanding, Khalil Mack gets doubled 80 percent of the plays, so if he could still pull off eight sacks, 10 sacks, that’s amazing, because they are doing everything to stop him every play. That’s just the attention that we’re going to get up front.”

To Bosa’s credit, the Cardinals threw the ball largely on quick screens and slants with a heavy dose of zone read and no-huddling, along with perimeter runs. It didn’t provide many chances for any sacks, let alone from Bosa’s perspective, who was chipped and double-teamed on many of the downs in which he actually had standard pass-rushing opportunities.

The key, Ford said, is taking advantage of the one-on-one opportunities that do come your way.

“But what you start doing is make them pay for that one time that they don’t block you,” Ford said. “So make them pay for that one, two times they don’t block you. I think that happened in that Arizona game. The couple times that they didn’t actually chip, they would kind of act like they’re about to chip and they don’t, that’s when you saw us get sacks late in the game against Arizona.”

But against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Bosa got back on the board with another sack and was robbed of another. After three-straight weeks of mobile quarterbacks, Rodgers was a breeze.

“It was amazing,” Bosa said. “His jersey’s nice and saggy too, so you can grab onto it. It’s just completely different. Sometimes it caught me off guard how he’s sitting back there… so back to Lamar Jackson this week though.”

Pro Bowl-bound brothers to add two moves to Nick Bosa’s arsenal

Bosa, along with his older brother Nick, are the top-two defensive end vote-getters thus far in the NFL’s Pro Bowl voting, and with the NFL pedigree of their father, John Bosa, and talent they both displayed at Ohio State, their simultaneous standout seasons are hardly surprising.

They younger Bosa was coached by Larry Johnson and is currently working with the three moves he worked with Johnson to perfect at Ohio State: a speed rush, bull rush, and counter.

Pass-rushing is, in part, about strength and speed. But the defining quality in top-tier rushers is their footwork and hand speed and placement. Bosa typically works with a two-hand swipe technique to get around defenders and he’ll often combine moves for a speed-to-power rush, as Ford described it.

On a straight speed rush, the rusher looks to beat the tackle to their outside. As mentioned, Bosa rarely just goes speed, converting it into a power rush like the one he sacked Rodgers for on Sunday:

On a bull rush, they run through the tackle. That bull rush was on full display against Pro Bowl tackle David Bakhtiari last Sunday, who needed frequent assistance, which opened lanes like on the play below, a sack by Arik Armstead for his team-leading 10th of the season:

The counter can be taken inside or outside. Bosa will tend to take one step to tease the blocker that he’s going one way and explode off his other foot, depending on what the lineman shows him, before using his hands to swipe around:

Ford told KNBR that you only need three pass moves to win in the NFL.

“You only need a few so it’s really just perfecting the move that you do,” Ford said. “It’s a simple solution, but hard execution. You gotta practice the same shit over and over and over and over and over. You really just have to perfect.”

Despite that traditional wisdom, Bosa said he wants to add another two, both of which would logically complement what he’s already doing.

Bosa told KNBR he plans to add a cross chop and spin move in the offseason, when he works with his older brother, and, as Ford told KNBR, with the rest of the 49ers’ rushers (Ford said he plans for them all to get together and work on technique at some point in the offseason).

Why add more?

“Obviously you want your main ones to be mastered, but why not learn more if you can?” Bosa said. “The technique we learned at Ohio State was a good basis for me, and now I could just add extra things on top.”

Bosa confirmed the development of those moves is similar to a young starting pitcher, who might come into the MLB with just two or three pitches they can rely on before developing a full repertoire over time in the offseason or offseasons.

He said he saw his brother winning with “five or six” moves against the Packers in his 1.5-sack performance a week before the 49ers played them. That spin move was a staple of Dwight Freeney’s and is a move which takes advantages of the threat of a speed rush. Ford has one too, and says with any move the exploiting blocker’s reactions yields the best results, and necessitates near-perfect footwork.

The spin move is a prime case of that.

Rushers use it by setting up the potential of speeding around the tackle, forcing them to overcompensate to the backside. Once they’ve overcommitted and a rusher knows they’re in space behind the quarterback, they can spin off, using the weight and momentum of the blocker against them.

While there’s plenty of tape out there, Bosa said he watches mostly his older brother’s tape, pointing to those “five or six” moves he saw him use against the Packers. Here’s the older Bosa’s version of it:

Once established, it can also be coupled with a fake spin, where a rusher fakes a spin inside and quickly turns back, yet again using the blocker’s weight against them, though it isn’t something Bosa said he plans to work on.

The cross chop is a violent hand move that tends to work best when a blocker commits their hands early. It sounds just like its name belies; a hard chop down across the blocker’s hands that uses that early commitment and weight distribution against them. Here’s an example of it from Joey Bosa again:

While Nick Bosa might have two fewer moves than his older brother, he was about 30,000 votes up on him in the most recent Pro Bowl tally. Nick Bosa has 8.0 sacks (not included a third against Baker Mayfield that should have been awarded), 23 solo tackles, an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery. Joey Bosa has 8.5 sacks, 33 solo tackles and one forced fumbles.

“I think Joe he deserves it for sure and I think I deserve it, but I mean it’s pretty awesome to see what this fan base is,” Bosa said. “It’s all over the country, like there’s 49ers fans everywhere so it’s pretty awesome.”

Nick Bosa initially credited Los Angeles Chargers fans, too, for their voting pull, before it was pointed out that the fanbase of his older brother isn’t quite so renowned, and may or may not leave him at a constant disadvantage in his own stadium.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Bosa said. “I mean Joey’s play speaks for itself. But yeah, I guess people are starting to like us a little bit.”

 

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