Meat-Eater Match Up: Steelers-49ers

“Forty-Niners” was the nickname given to describe the throngs of people who flocked to San Francisco in 1849 to search for gold.

Wealth seekers rushing to California in the mid-19th century created a fever, prospecting for gold practically overnight in San Francisco.

This is also a fair description of the front end of the 49ers pass rush as well. They roll six or seven frenzied, fresh bodies in throughout the game.

High-energy, high-motor guys with a desire to get after the quarterback and shut down the run game. And believe you me, they are worth their weight in “gold.”

The 49ers have seven sacks over the first two games from six different pass rushers. That tells you there are many, who have few.

But having many who have few doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Or that big time pass rushers aren’t there. As of right now, it’s been many hands in the pile to get the job done.

This week’s Meat-Eater Matchup takes a look at the 49ers Deforest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and Nick Bosa.

If Seattle’s lineup had some T-Rexes, then San Francisco sports some Raptors, and trust me, these Raptors hunt.

Start with the quick and the fast, 6-foot-2, 252-pound defensive end Dee Ford, who came over from Kansas City after racking up 13 sacks last year.

Ford has a nice first step, and is an adequate hand-fighter.

Quick to the takeoff, Ford has another gear to use when he desires to. Ford can hold the point of attack, set the edge, as well as work his way down the backside on run plays away from him, holding to his gap responsibilities. 

Ford can backdoor the rush, and strip sack as well. In the 49ers’ first game of the year against Tampa Bay, Ford strip-sacked Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. Dating back to 2018, Ford has 8 forced fumbles, the most in the NFL over that span.

Its likely that Matt Feiler will line up over Ford much of the time. Feiler needs a quick pass set, keep his hands high, his head back, so as not to lunge in pass protection.

With Feiler’s great strength, Ford, trying to bull rush down the middle of the “Anchor” should prove to be futile. But as always, bending the knees, and getting lower than your opponent, will greatly alter the power leverage either way. I’m thinking Feiler has what it takes to shut Ford down.

Highly prized first round draft pick Bosa rotates in at defensive send. At 6-foot-4, 266-pounds, his up-the-field speed is best seen with a bucket of popcorn and a ticket in hand, and not experienced from groundhog level with a facemask on. 

A great first step, Bosa runs a tight arc around the back and is adept in the art of hand fighting as well. Bosa is a bundle of quick-twitch muscle fibers and uses that quick twitch to anticipate the snap count.

With a loud, hometown crowd possibly causing the Steelers to go on the silent count, Bosa could get an extra boost and therefore an extra step once the ball is snapped.

Al Villanueva may draw Bosa, and if he does, it will be up to him to use those “jumper cable” arm length punches to take the steam out of Bosa’s rush. Villanueva can counter with his own version of hand fighting by using a downward chopping motion to knock down any attempted inside arm lockouts by Bosa, which he does very well.

Having played against Bosa’s dad, John, many years ago, when the Steelers played the Dolphins, I can assure Villanueva that it will be a highly combustible and play-to-the-whistle Bosa that he will face. That apple didn’t fall far from the tree.  

Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner stands 6-foot-7, and weighs 295-pounds. Buckner posted 12-sacks last year for the 49ers, the most since long gone linebacker Aldon Smith’s 19.5 sack total in 2012.

Buckner will line up over both guards. He pass rushes and leads often with a flying head butt to set off the festivities, followed by a flurry of hand techniques. Especially to take note is Buckner’s use of the “forklift.” This is a pass rushing technique that a defensive lineman uses to get under the arms of an offensive lineman and using ballistic arm strength, raise those arms throwing the offensive lineman off balance. Think of someone grabbing you under your elbows and pushing those elbows up, creating a type of “elbow-lift.” 

Buckner reminds me of old time Raider pass rusher Sean Jones. Jones had the same power leverage ability of getting under you despite his height. Buckner has that “under and up” ability to root power from the ground up that accentuates his leverage. He’s a knee bender and has lower pad levels than many of his opponents.

The “rising blow” was a Chuck Noll staple that, if I heard it once from coach, I heard it 10,000 times over the course of my career with him.

“Whoever gets under and up positioning wins.” Coach Noll blocking wisdom 101.

Whether Ramon Foster or David DeCastro, along with Maurkice Pouncey draw run/pass blocking duty against Buckner, all three men have skill sets to neutralize Buckner.

Buckner can be made one dimensional when he gets running sideways. Laterally he lacks power, and if you can get him turning his shoulders and running towards the sidelines, he becomes the one-dimensional man.

Buckner has shown vulnerability in getting ear-holed by a trap block, and can get bounced by a good double team block. I would also be remiss to add that, the second time Buckner faced a trap block, he pretty much mulched the trapper. He’s smart, and learns on the fly.

Let me add in one more name. Arik Armstead, 6-foot-7, 290-pounds, plays inside and outside along the defensive front. He looks almost like a mirror image of his teammate Buckner. As a matter of fact, Buckner and Armstead were teammates together at the University of Oregon. They were both drafted by the 49ers in different years, and are similar in style, size and production.

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