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49ers DL experiment reaping rewards through three games

Rohan Chakravarthi
Sep 24, 2023 at 2:42 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers have started off strong to begin the 2023 season, winning of each their first three games while scoring at least 30 points a game and allowing under 15 points per game on average.

Defensively, the 49ers came into the season with a strong roster, but a couple of questions, as they had lost key depth pieces while entering the season with a new defensive coordinator.

While the majority of the defensive alignments have been similar, the 49ers have increased the usage of five-man fronts, experimenting with the implementation of Javon Kinlaw alongside Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave on the interior.

Thus far, the early rewards have been plentiful.

Through three games, the trio has combined for 32 of San Francisco's 79 pressures through three games, with their top five players, including edge rushers Drake Jackson and Nick Bosa, each having at least nine pressures on the season.

Why has the alignment been so effective?

Head coach Kyle Shanahan attributed it to the talent of the pass-rushers for the 49ers, and the 1-on-1 matchups created through the five-man fronts.

"Anytime you could get five pass rushers in there who are all effective, it's great. You get one-on-one blockings and you have to do it with four D-lineman when we have [LB] Fred [Warner] hug the center too which gives some different looks. So it's always an option. It's always a problem for offenses anytime, but sometimes you got to get one of those guys to play coverage too, which they don't like."

Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was excited to debut the front in the regular season, adding that he loves the 5-2 looks, given the personnel that San Francisco has.

"I think everybody say [defensive coordinator Steve Wilks] is known for his blitzing. Of course, we blitz, too, but I think he trusts for the front to win and let us roll," Hargrave said. "I said, I ain't seen five two [man fronts] in the middle of the field in a long time."

"That's crazy, because we did like you said, we got a lot of people, so I guess they just want to get everybody out there at one time and see what we can do. I love it."

An additional element that added to the early success was the lack of tape out there on the five-man fronts in the preseason, which added to the confusion level for opposing offenses.

"We ain't put that on tape in the preseason. So they was confused," Hargrave said on former 49er Richard Sherman's podcast.

The 49ers have enjoyed a quiet breakout from DT Javon Kinlaw, whose pass rushing skills have been on display early and often this season, allowing the 49ers to implement five-man fronts with their new personnel.

It'll be interesting to see how much the 49ers implement the look going forward, but it's clear they've liked what they've seen thus far.

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