The San Francisco 49ers offseason investments to improve the pass rush, via the NFL Draft and free agency, paid immediate dividends in the Week 1 31-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Coming into the 2019 season, part of the San Francisco 49ers fanbase was up in arms at the fact the team did not address needs in the secondary via free agency or the NFL Draft.
Ironically, the 2018 offseason had fans upset about the front seven being neglected when 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan notably said, “You’d have to be pretty good to beat out Cassius Marsh.”
This offseason, those cries were heard, and instead of addressing the back-end, general manager John Lynch traded a 2020 second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for pass-rush specialist Dee Ford, then drafted defensive end Nick Bosa out of Ohio State University with the second-overall pick in the NFL Draft.
These investments to improve the pass rush paid immediate dividends in Week 1 versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, prompting the team to a 31-17 victory.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bosa was credited with six quarterback pressures while notching his first career sack. Ford had himself a game as well, recording a strip sack to end the first quarter, and he looked explosive at the point of attack all game long. Although the pressure from the dynamic duo of Bosa and Ford had a negative impact on Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who had a passer rating of 3.1 while under pressure, it had an equally tremendous impact of the 49ers secondary.
Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon recorded three pass breakups and and an interception returned for a touchdown to put an exclamation point on the Niners victory. The upgraded pass rush seems to have helped Witherspoon find his confidence, which flashed his rookie season, although many thought he had completely lost during his sophomore slump in 2018.
Starting out the 2019 campaign with the highest grade on defense (80.8, per Pro Football Focus) is exactly what Witherspoon needed, as he looks to solidify himself as a long-term starter for the franchise.
Witherspoon was just one of the many players on the back end who benefited from the constant pressure applied by Bosa, Ford and Co. All Pro cornerback Richard Sherman had a pick-six of his own early in the third-quarter, and second-year safety Tarvarius Moore stepped in front of a pass on the goal line, which would have gone 100 yards the other way if he could have held onto it.
But it led to a turnover on downs instead.
As the 2019 seasons wears on, many will continue to argue the front office should have addressed the glaring needs in the secondary, while others will contend the upgraded pass rush will help the secondary improve.
This is similar to the age-old debate: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The answer to that question has yet to be solved. But after Week 1, it’s clearly evident this new and improved pass rush helps ease some of the concerns the 49ers have in the secondary.