Rodgers says pass rush drives the 49ers’ de­fense

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Chris Biderman

SANTA CLARA — Re­mem­ber that 2018 49ers de­fense? The one that set an NFL record in fu­til­ity with just seven take­aways?

Aaron Rodgers does, be­cause the star quar­ter­back and the Green Bay Packers played San Francisco on a Mon­day night last Oc­to­ber. They won that game, 33-30, thanks to one of Rodgers’ 15 ca­reer fourth-quar­ter come­backs.

That’s no­table given Rodgers and the Packers are com­ing to Levi’s Sta­dium for a crit­i­cal Sun­day night game against a de­fense that’s im­proved dra­mat­i­cally, par­tic­u­larly at forc­ing turnovers.

The 49ers en­ter the week­end third in the NFL with 22 take­aways in 10 games, more than three times their to­tal in 16 games last sea­son.

Rodgers, hav­ing watched the coach’s film of each 49ers game this year, didn’t hes­i­tate when asked by re­porters in Green Bay this week about the dif­fer­ence in San Francisco’s de­fense.

“Pass rush. It’s def­i­nitely pass rush,” Rodgers said.

“When you can add Dee Ford through free agency or a trade, and then draft Nick Bosa, and you al­ready got two 6-7 guys (DeFor­est Buck­ner and Arik Arm­stead) who are re­ally good play­ers, you would ex­pect the ef­fi­ciency of the de­fense and the turnovers to go up and they ob­vi­ously have.”

Spear­head­ing that pass rush is the rookie Bosa, who hap­pens to be go­ing through the long­est sack drought of his young ca­reer. He hasn’t reg­is­tered one since Oct. 27 against the Carolina Pan­thers, four games ago, when he had three sacks of Kyle Allen and an in­ter­cep­tion to earn player of the week hon­ors.

As Bosa’s star grows, so does his star

treat­ment from op­pos­ing of­fenses. Which means chip blocks from tight ends, re­ceivers and run­ning backs de­signed to slow his at­tack against of­fen­sive line­men. An ex­am­ple that stuck with Bosa from Sun­day was when Car­di­nals re­ceiver Larry Fitzgerald blew Bosa up at the snap when he wasn’t ex­pect­ing it.

“Af­ter that, he ran up to me and said, ‘Sorry man, I got to slow you down some how,’” Bosa said. “I was like, ‘Shoot, you did.’ “

It was one ex­am­ple of Bosa hav­ing an im­print on games de­spite not get­ting sacks in bunches like he did ear­lier in his rookie cam­paign. He had seven sacks in his first eight NFL con­tests, but hasn’t come par­tic­u­larly close the past three weeks in games against mo­bile sig­nal call­ers Kyler Mur­ray and Russell Wil­son.

“Even though sta­tis­ti­cally it may not be show­ing up,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh said, “teams have de­lib­er­ately gone out of their way to try and take him out of the game and it’s given op­por­tu­ni­ties for other guys and that’s where other peo­ple have to step up. It’s a credit to him about what he’s been putting on tape and now for him he’s got to fig­ure out how to de­feat that be­cause the great ones, it doesn’t mat­ter what teams do, the great ones will still show up time and time again, which he has.”

Bosa on Thurs­day ad­mit­ted to be­ing frus­trated by not get­ting sacks. But the ex­tra at­ten­tion he’s re­ceived the past three weeks has helped Buck­ner get two sacks, Arm­stead get 2.5 and Ford, 2.0.

“I’m get­ting bet­ter at fo­cus­ing on the team and just the team win­ning and the other guys do­ing well,” Bosa said. “Arik, Buck, they’re hav­ing amaz­ing years. It’s kind of a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me. And I’m just go­ing to keep on go­ing.”

Part of Bosa’s week of prepa­ra­tion has been talk­ing with his brother Joey, the star pass rusher for the Charg­ers who had 1.5 sacks of Rodgers Nov. 3 dur­ing a 26-11 drub­bing in Los An­ge­les.

“(I) texted him about his game and the amount of moves he used that game. He was win­ning with prob­a­bly five dif­fer­ent moves on both sides (of the for­ma­tion). It was fun to watch,” Nick Bosa said.

If Joey, a four-year vet­eran, has five pass rush­ing moves, how many does Nick have?

“Right now, only like three-ish that I’m re­ally, re­ally con­fi­dent in,” he said. “I was watch­ing his stuff, he was us­ing five or six and he was win­ning with all them. I def­i­nitely think over the next few sea­sons I could add a cou­ple.”

San Francisco has 39 sacks, tied with the Pan­thers for the most in the NFL. A league-high 20 have come on third or fourth down, and the 49ers are the only club with four play­ers with at least five sacks: Bosa (7.0), Arm­stead (8.0), Ford (6.5) and Buck­ner (5.0).

But get­ting sacks might not be enough to ef­fec­tively slow Rodgers, who re­mains one of the NFL’s premier quar­ter­backs de­spite turn­ing 36 on Dec. 2.

Rodgers has thrown a league-low two in­ter­cep­tions, tied with Pa­trick Ma­homes and Russell Wil­son. His in­ter­cep­tion rate (0.57% of drop­backs) is the best in the league, while his 8.6 in­tended yards per at­tempt ranks 10th. His 272 yards per game ranks 11th.

In other words, Rodgers is no check-down Char­lie. He ag­gres­sively pushes the ball down­field while avoid­ing turnovers, which is an ideal com­bi­na­tion for a quar­ter­back. It’s one of the many rea­sons Rodgers is an all-time great.

“You’d have to check some physics ex­pert or some­thing be­cause he makes some re­ally tough throws,” cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man said.


49ers de­fen­sive line­man Arik Arm­stead posted five to­tal tack­les and a sack dur­ing a win over the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers early this sea­son.

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