49ers’ Marsh, Watson hope to build sack rate
Last week, the 49ers had eight sacks against the Raiders, which might say more about the Raiders’ offensive line than the 49ers’ pass rush.
Still, for the glass-is-half-full crowd, the performance provided hope for what has widely been viewed as the biggest weakness on a 2-7 team.
The 49ers arrived for their 34-3 romp over Oakland with 16 sacks in eight games. They exited with their most sacks since the 2009 regular-season finale when they also had eight.
Cassius Marsh, the team’s top edge rusher, had a careerbest 2.5 sacks. Defensive end Dekoda Watson, making his 2018 debut, had a career-best 1.5 sacks.
“The way they were collapsing the pocket was kind of a great picture of what we’ve been wanting our pass rush to look like,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of Marsh and Watson. “So it was a really good execution.”
However, even Saleh couldn’t avoid the obvious: Marsh and Watson might have been looking good because of the sorry state of the Raiders’ front five.
Rookie left tackle Kolton Miller played just 25 snaps against the 49ers before leaving with a knee injury. Rookie right tackle Brandon Parker, who was replacing starter Donald Penn, was benched briefly for ineffectiveness.
“It is unfortunate from Oakland’s standpoint,” Saleh said. “They are dealing with a lot of issues and having to move people. But I still give a lot of credit because they’re still NFL football players. And we still had to go out and execute and they did.”
For Marsh, 26, it was a longawaited breakthrough. He entered the Oakland game with one sack in his first eight games, and seven in his fiveyear career.
“It’s been frustration for me up to this point,” Marsh said. “A lot of good rushes and a bunch of ‘almosts.’ Almost doesn’t count. So having a game like that was definitely satisfying for me. And I feel like a lot of guys on the D-line felt the same.”
The 49ers’ biggest move offseason move to address their pass-rush problem was to sign Marsh to a two-year contract extension. Before playing the Raiders, the 49ers ranked 25th in the NFL in sacks and it was widely believed they would use their first pick in next year’s draft on an edge rusher.
That still seems likely, but Marsh can make a case that he should remain in their passrush rotation in 2019 if he can build on his last performance. Marsh punctuated his takedowns of Oakland’s Derek Carr with martial-arts-inspired celebration that includes what a reporter mistakenly referred to as a karate kick.
“It’s actually tae kwon do,” Marsh said. “Everyone is saying karate kick, but I’ve got to show respect for tae kwon do — I did it for like 61⁄2 years. … I have all kinds of kicks in my arsenal; that’s just one that looks the best.”
Watson, 30, a nine-year veteran known for his specialteams work, had one of the best defensive performances of his 5.5-sack career. And it came after he spent the previous two months on injured reserve with a hamstring injury he sustained in practice two days before the season opener.
The injury was a blessing in disguise. Watson, who is 246 pounds, ballooned to 272 pounds in the offseason, but he adhered to a vegan diet during his time on IR. He noted he didn’t immediately give up meat.
“I was depressed when I got hurt,” Watson said. “I went for SusieCakes and ordered everything that they had. I barbecued and just tried to eat my pain away. But after a while, once we started getting closer (to getting off IR), I realized I had to start doing something different with my diet.”
Watson, perhaps half-jokingly, said he became overweight because of his wife’s pregnancy, saying “whatever she had, I got double.”
“That was the heaviest I’d ever been in my life,” Watson said, “I felt it in my cheeks. I had back folds that I never knew existed. I called them little kickstands because it felt like something just holding me up.”
Can Marsh and Watson eat again against the Giants (1-7) on Monday night? It appears possible: Only two teams have allowed more sacks than New York (31).
“For them to … repeat that over and over and over again,” Saleh said, “is going to be the challenge for the remainder of the season.”
The Raiders’ Derek Carr is sacked by Cassius Marsh (front) and Dekoda Watson. The 49ers sacked Carr seven times and had eight total sacks.
Dekoda Watson is nine-year veteran who has 51⁄2 sacks in his career, 11⁄2 of them coming Nov. 1 against the Raiders.