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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Shanahan attempts to explain Arik Armstead’s drop in production

Nov 19, 2020 at 6:45 AM--

Some subscribe to the idea that you shouldn't hand a big payday to a player whose outlier season falls during a contract year. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead's career-best season came last year when he led the San Francisco 49ers with 10 sacks. The production came during his fifth-year option, and the 49ers rewarded the defender this offseason with a five-year, $85 million deal.

Armstead had a lot of help along the defensive line last season. He had rookie phenom Nick Bosa and veteran Dee Ford (at times) causing havoc on the edges. He had DeForest Buckner plugging up the middle. It truly was one of the best defensive lines the Niner Faithful had seen in a long while.

And that's the 49ers' philosophy. Own a daunting defensive line that can generate a pass rush, and then build the rest around that. When defensive end Takkarist McKinley became available again this week, San Francisco jumped at the chance to claim him off waivers and acquired him on Wednesday. The defensive line, after all, has taken a hit this season. Of course, that has been the case across much of San Francisco's roster.

Ford has not played a snap since Week 1 due to a back injury. Bosa is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL. Solomon Thomas sustained the same injury two plays after Bosa. Buckner? He's flourishing in Indianapolis thanks to an offseason trade to the Colts. Ronald Blair has yet to play this season.

Where does that leave Armstead? Without the supporting cast he had last season.

"When it comes to production, that's a big deal, especially with someone like Arik, who has done it and has been here in the past," head coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday on KNBR's Murph & Mac show. "But our production has been down across the board on D-line. And D-line is a tough position with production. I mean, everyone bases it off sacks and everything like that. When you get sacks, and you get those numbers up, a lot of it has to do with committee, and that's one reason I think all our guys had good numbers last year."

The 49ers have tried to find players who can come in and help fill some of the lost production. The team signed Ziggy Ansah after the Bosa, Ford, and Thomas injuries. Ansah's fate was the same as the others. He landed on injured reserve on October 10 due to a biceps injury.

There just weren't any names out there who could make up the production and impact that Bosa, Ford, and others made along the defensive line.

"When you have two studs off the edge, and we had two studs inside, and mixing them up throughout a game, and it's keeping everybody fresh, everyone gets to eat, and everyone has good numbers," Shanahan continued. "And when you take a bunch of those guys out, especially your two top edge guys after the first game of the year, everyone's going to hurt, and there's not going to be as much space, and you're not going to get to go off on those numbers.

"Armstead knows that, and he wants to play at a higher level. We want everyone to play at a higher level. But by no means does Armstead's numbers mean that he's playing bad football. I mean, Arik defends the fun better than anyone we have, and as good as anyone I've seen in this league."

Armstead's Pro Football Focus run grade, by the way, ranks No. 60 among defensive linemen, for those who place significant stock in the analytics site's grades. He ranks No. 24 among edge defenders. Armstead's percentage (8 percent) of defensive run snaps on which he was responsible for a stop ties for No. 43 among edge defenders.

"We'd love to get more production in the pass game and stuff, and Arik's working to do that, but it's also just not on him," Shanahan added. "That's on a whole group of guys, and that's what's been different this year than last year because last year we had a Super Bowl pass rush ... better than anyone I've seen in a number of years.

"When you lose all your edge guys, and you don't have the same depth, not having Buck, losing Solomon (Thomas), not having Ronald Blair; there's a number of guys, and that affects everybody."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Shanahan below.

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