Listen, we’re not expecting the 49ers to bounce back and win in Week 2. Not on the road in Seattle. The reality is they’re not on the same tier as the reigning division and 2013 Super Bowl champs. Not close. The Seahawks defensive line is going to eat the 49ers offensive line alive. An inconsistent Jimmy Graham is likely to have a field day. All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman is going to have something to flap his gums about during and after the game. These are all virtual certainties.
But if there’s one area to have expectations of the 49ers, it’s on the defensive line.
That defensive line made up of a top-3 pick, a top-7 pick and a top-20 pick, all drafted over the last three years. Three of the four starting linemen are supposed to be franchise players. Pro Bowl caliber players. But in Week 1, their first game together, they laid an egg, getting stonewalled by the Panthers and held without a single sack.
DeForest Buckner was the top performer, registering one of the two QB hits of the game (Elvis Dumervil the other). Pro Football Focus reinforced this, as he was a top-5 graded player for the 49ers that game, and was the NFL’s highest-graded interior defensive lineman from a pass-rush productivity standpoint in Week 1.
But despite his efforts, and that of Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas, the 49ers defensive line made little impact on the game.
While they held both Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey out of the end zone and to less than 4.0 yards per carry, they did not affect the quarterback. And that’s a difficult pill to swallow, even in Game 1, because they’re supposed to be more dynamic, individually and as a unit. This also wasn’t all of their first games, it was just their first game as a trio. Buckner and Armstead combined for 39 games played before this year, and Thomas is the highest-drafted, highest-upside and supposedly most pro-ready of all of them.
So, while the 49ers as a whole may not have a bounce-back game, and shouldn’t be expected to, this position group should. It’s fair to expect results from them, especially against the Seahawks, which have arguably the worst offensive line in football.
Russell Wilson on opening weekend was sacked three times for a loss of 23 yards, and could only complete 14 of 27 attempts for 158 yards and no touchdowns. Of the running backs, relative unknown Chris Carson led the way with 39 yards on the ground. The reason for this was the line was decimated from the snap. They’re slow and can’t engage anyone. They can’t maintain blocks. Assignments are being missed.
It’s to the point where five offensive linemen can’t block a three-man rush for even two seconds.
Armstead, Buckner and Thomas should be all over Wilson all game.
Wilson’s elusive, though, so he’ll evade a number of would-be sacks, but also look for the throwaways, QB hits and pressures. See if that leads to interceptions, or inaccurate or wobbly passes. But the 49ers defense, and that line grouping in particular, needs to show results from a pass-rush perspective. And due to a favorable matchup in Week 2, they can.
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