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Tough assignment: How Nick Bosa and the 49ers defense limited Jalen Hurts

Dec 5, 2023 at 5:34 PM--


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On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers defense adopted a different approach against the Philadelphia Eagles. It involved a typically aggressive-minded defensive line being ... well ... less aggressive.

The unit has had its problems when facing mobile quarterbacks, often struggling to bring down elusive signal-callers, resulting in surrendering some embarrassing numbers.

They wanted to avoid that while facing Jalen Hurts, an MVP candidate who has amassed an impressive 2,328 rushing yards and 38 rushing touchdowns in his four NFL seasons. This time, the strategy was containment. The primary objective was to prevent Hurts from exploiting the 49ers with his legs, even if it meant sacrificing potential sacks.

Passing up aggressively pursuing a quarterback can be a tough concept for players like Nick Bosa, who train daily to hone their pass-rushing skills.

"It was definitely an assignment-focused game," Bosa told reporters after the 49ers' dominant 42-19 victory. "We had to make Jalen focus on the rush more than looking downfield, and we knew that was the key to the game. So our whole mentality was we're not trying to set the record on sacks, we're trying to close the pocket, we're trying to get his eyes on us."

The strategy proved effective. Hurts was limited to just 20 rushing yards against the 49ers, his second-lowest single-game total of the season (Washington held him to six in Week 8). The quarterback was still sacked three times.

The 49ers defense's achievement was made even more impressive by the challenge of facing a formidable offensive line.

"And obviously, really good O-line, and he helps him out with how he evades," Bosa continued. "And you can't really pick a side when you're rushing those guys because you know Jalen's watching you. He's trying to get out of the pocket and win that way. So I think we did a really good job of just closing in on him."

49ers Webzone podcast host Brian Renick praised the defensive strategy.

"One of the things that I thought was awesome to see is I genuinely believe that this is likely the best 49ers defensive performance against a mobile quarterback that I have seen since [head coach] Kyle Shanahan has arrived in San Francisco," Renick said this week during the 49ers Webzone No Huddle Podcast. "I attribute that to [defensive coordinator] Steve Wilks and the game plan he put together because if you go back and you watch that game, you will see Jalen Hurts unmolested in the pocket. But what he isn't doing is breaking the pocket because the 49ers defensive ends maintained their edge and did not allow escape routes for Hurts.

"Did they get Hurts down? A handful of times. But more importantly, they didn't let him get out of the pocket, and they forced Jalen Hurts to play quarterback, and he was not able to do so."

Perhaps Wilks has found a solution to a problem that has plagued the 49ers defense for years. With the playoffs on the horizon and the likelihood of facing multiple mobile quarterbacks, these strategic adjustments may have come at the right time.




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