49ers’ Marsh, Wat­son hope to build sack rate

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - By Eric Branch

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.”

Thearon W. Hen­der­son / Getty Images

The Raiders’ Derek Carr is sacked by Cas­sius Marsh (front) and Dekoda Wat­son. The 49ers sacked Carr seven times and had eight to­tal sacks.

Thearon W. Hen­der­son / Getty Images

Dekoda Wat­son is nine-year vet­eran who has 51⁄2 sacks in his ca­reer, 11⁄2 of them com­ing Nov. 1 against the Raiders.

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