© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Rejoice, 49ers fans. Kyle Shanahan is a fan of edge rushers.
At 2-10, the 49ers are lined up for the No. 1 draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, replete with several edge rushers expected to translate to the NFL. The “Tank for Nick Bosa” movement is in full effect. The Ohio State defensive end enters the draft as the consensus top prospect.
If the 49ers need something badly, it is the addition of a game-changing pass rusher who forces turnovers. Most great defenses have one.
Just ask Shanahan.
“You look at the best defenses of all time, that I can remember,” Shanahan said Wednesday, “the Baltimore defense, they had a pass rush. You go to the Tampa Bay defense with Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp, they had a pass rush. You look at all of the teams that have gone to the Super Bowl based off of defenses, Seattle, they all do a pretty good job. You go back to the days that Indianapolis won it with Peyton (Manning). What was their defense from when they played Tampa Two? They had (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis on the edge, they had pass rush people. You can go to a ton of teams like that. The Chicago Bears when they got there. They didn’t have a great offense, but Tommie Harris was playing at a high level. They had the linebackers to play the zone, but they got to the quarterback too. So, I think it’s always been that way.”
Through 12 games, the 49ers have 29 sacks, tied for the ninth-fewest in the NFL this year. Eight of them came in Week 9 against Oakland. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner leads the team with nine sacks. Out of the team’s edge rushers, the leading sacker is Ronald Blair, with 4.5 sacks.
The 49ers have forced just five turnovers, on pace for the fewest in a single season in NFL history. Their -20 turnover differential is the worst in the league.
The absence of a feared edge rusher has had a negative trickle-down effect on the rest of the 49ers defense. Opposing quarterbacks have sat back and found holes in San Francisco’s Cover-3 zone. The secondary has been tasked with covering for longer periods of time, allowing receivers to either finish their routes or break off into open space.
When asked about positions that can transform a team, Shanahan identified quarterback and edge rusher. The 49ers currently have one of them.
“A quarterback can hide a lot of problems and so can a pass rush,” Shanahan said. “You can do different things in coverage. You can be more aggressive. You can have some holes and some vulnerabilities that you can see as a coach and there’s lots of stuff you’d like to try versus some of these coverages.
A lot of people will come in and draw it on the board and it’s like, ‘Man, that’s great. Have you watched the end zone copy yet? I know he’ll be open, but our guy’s helmet is going to be rolling on the ground by the time we try to throw it.’ So, it’s all those types of things that go into account and the more big plays you can try, no matter what happens, eventually if you get them off, you’re going to score some points and a pass rusher is going to eliminate all of that.”