No. 1: DeMeco Ryans likely asks 49ers to blitz a lot
In 2019, San Francisco had an elite four-man pass rush, which allowed Robert Saleh to drop as many as seven defenders back into coverage. But after losing EDGEs Nick Bosa and Dee Ford to season-ending injuries earlier in 2020, Saleh was required to blitz a lot more to make up for the lack of pure pass-rushers and to account for the general lack of overall speed on the defensive line.
San Francisco 49ers
The differences in 49ers blitzing efforts from 2017 through 2020 tell this story:
- 2017 blitz percentage: 22.4 percent (20th)
- 2018 blitz percentage: 20.4 percent (22nd)
- 2019 blitz percentage: 20.9 percent (29th)
- 2020 blitz percentage: 33.6 percent (10th)
Bosa is expected to be back fully healthy from his 2020 ACL tear, but Ford’s status remains in doubt. Perhaps EDGE Samson Ebukam, brought in as a free agent, helps fill the void.
But there’s just as good a chance DeMeco Ryans relies a lot more on the blitz than Saleh did his first three years with the Niners.
One possible indicator is San Francisco’s fifth-round draft addition, USC safety Talanoa Hufanga, whose impressive four interceptions in 2020 over six games called out his pass-coverage skills. Lost in the discussion somewhat, however, is the fact he also recorded 6.5 sacks over the last two seasons as an in-the-box blitzer, suggesting he could be a situational pass-rusher right out of the gate.
While Ryans’ blitz percentage might not need to be as high as the 49ers showcased a year ago, thanks largely to Bosa being back, one might expect it to be much higher than it was between 2017 and 2019.