Injuries on defensive line hobble 49ers’ ambitions
Nick Bosa is on the shelf, Dee Ford is in limbo and Deforest Bucker is in Indianapolis.
The obvious question: Are the 49ers’ Super Bowl dreams in the dumpster?
Last year, the 49ers got to the NFL’S title game because of the way they got after quarterbacks. The pressure generated by Bosa, Ford, Buckner and Arik Armstead forged the team’s identity and headlined the NFL’S secondranked defense.
“I think one of the most tangible reasons we were in a Super Bowl last year,” general manager John Lynch said in April, “was because when we were right, when we were healthy, we overwhelmed people from a defensiveline perspective.”
Five months later, the 49ers are thinned at what used to unquestionably be their best position group: Bosa’s season is over because of the torn ACL he suffered in a 3113 win over the Jets on Sunday and Ford missed the game because of his latest injury, a back ailment that will sideline him indefinitely. In addition, defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, the No. 3 pick in 2017 and part of their interiorline rotation, also suffered a torn ACL against the Jets.
NFL Network reported Tuesday the 49ers “hope” Ford’s injury clears up, but it could take “some time” before
he’s able to return.
Ford, 29, has been out since he missed Thursday’s practice to have an MRI exam because of what head coach Kyle Shanahan initially termed “neck spasms.” Shanahan clarified Monday that Ford has a back issue.
The initial belief that Ford had a neck injury suggests he’s dealing with an upperback problem. Ford had surgeries on his lower back in 2011 and 2017. He had a herniated disk repaired when he was at Auburn before he had a lumbar discectomy three years ago when he was with Kansas City.
The 49ers have been counting on Ford playing more this season to help offset the departure of Buckner, who was traded to the Colts in a deal inspired by their salarycap crunch. The 49ers replaced Buckner with rookie firstround pick Javon Kinlaw, but they have acknowledged he’s not yet in Buckner’s class as a pass rusher.
The additions of Bosa, via the No. 2 pick, and Ford, via a trade, were transformative transactions last year. CEO Jed York, who has overseen a team that went 1747 from 2015 through 2018, has said taking Bosa rekindled title talk in his mind.
“The moment we were able to draft Nick Bosa, I thought that this was possible,” York said in January before the Super Bowl. “Something important for Kyle was to have a Super Bowlcaliber defensive line. When you bring Dee Ford through a trade/ free agency, and then you’re able to get a player like Nick there when you’re drafting second, you knew that you had a chance. That’s when it sort of hit for me.”
Ford was effective last year. His 6.5 sacks matched the most by a 49ers edge rusher from 2014 to 2018. However, he was limited to 22% of the snaps because of knee tendinitis and a hamstring injury, meaning the 49ers managed during his absences.
In contrast, Bosa was a constant force, playing in all 19 games, including the postseason.
Reaching the Super Bowl didn’t become impossible the moment the 49ers lost Bosa on Sunday. However, Shanahan’s answer was telling Monday when asked about the implications of his injury.
He invoked quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s cataclysmic torn ACL in Week 3 of the 2018 season. And he mentioned the Broncos’ recent loss of Allpro pass rusher Von Miller, an eighttime Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP, to a seasonending leg injury before Week 1.
“Everyone knows how great of a player Nick is,” Shanahan said. “Teams do go through this. We lost our quarterback at the beginning of the year two years ago. You look at things like Denver, losing a player like Von before the season started. So it’s all very similar to losing a guy like Nick.”
The 49ers hope not. They went 310 without Garoppolo in 2018. And the Broncos have started 02 without Miller.
These 49ers have a far better roster than the 2020 Broncos or the 2018 49ers, but they are less formidable without a 22yearold who already was viewed among the NFL’S elite.
Last year, Bosa was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year and was voted to the Pro Bowl based on a ninesack regular season during which he became the only player to win two NFC Defensive Player of the Week awards. In the postseason, he had added four sacks, the second most by a rookie since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
This season, there was a belief he would be better.
“Nick is tremendous,” Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury said before the season opener. “He had an incredible year last year, just got better and better. I’m sure in Year 2, the game will slow down for him down for him tremendously.”
Last week, Jets head coach Adam Gase suggested pairing Bosa with highintensity defensive line coach Kris Kocurek was dangerous.
“You give Kris Kocurek that guy,” Gase said, “there’s going to be a lot of damage done to quarterbacks, I know that.”
The 49ers agreed to terms with 2015 Pro Bowl pass rusher Ziggy Ansah, 31, on a oneyear deal Monday. And they likely will promote defensive end Dion Jordan from the practice squad this week.
Ansah was the No. 5 pick in 2013.
And Jordan was the No. 3 pick in 2013.
But they can’t replace the No. 2 pick in 2019.
And the loss of Bosa, the best player on their best position group, makes it far more likely the 49ers won’t be finishing No. 1 in 2020.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan (left) is forced to look to the bench to find a solution for the 49ers’ injuryplagued defensive line.