When the 49ers hired Chris Kiffin as a pass-rush specialist in the offseason, he spoke of improving San Francisco's pressure rate and measly sack numbers by building "a trap" for opposing quarterbacks.

Back in May, Kiffin, per The Sacramento Bee, said of the 2017 pass rush: "A big thing I saw was guys not necessarily rushing together. You can't look at it as four individual rushers. It's really, you're rushing as one. If we can get that fixed, the pass rush improves."

Kiffin spoke of his desire to use DeForest Buckner, clearly the star of San Francisco's stacked interior defensive line, as the focal point of his trap, adding: "I think we have to build everything around Buck. And that's your starting point. You watch the NBA playoffs right now and you see (teams) build around their best guys. There are a bunch of different ways you can do it. But you take your best and you build off of him. And that's what we plan on doing."

It was easy to be skeptical of Kiffin's grand plans. Despite Buckner's consistent dominance of offensive linemen and his ability to generate pressure almost at will, he had just three sacks in 2017 and the 49ers had just 30 as a team. They then cut their best edge rusher and 2017 sack leader, the now-retired Elvis Dumervil, and signed Jeremiah Attaochu in the offseason only to release him as part of their final roster cutdown, leaving the Niners with Cassius Marsh and not much else on the outside.

You would therefore be forgiven for expecting a 2018 season in which Buckner's stellar play again goes to waste. However, the opener with the Minnesota Vikings suggested Kiffin's plans for a "team rush" are poised for success.

Buckner almost registered his entire 2017 sack total in one game, logging 2.5 against the Vikings, with 1.5 of them coming as he cleaned up pressure from other players in a contest in which the pass rush did indeed appear to be a more cohesive effort right off the bat.

Success was always likely versus a poor Minnesota offensive line, but it was the manner in which the 49ers engineered pressure that stood out, with a "team rush" built around Buckner coming to the fore early and often.

Indeed, it was prominent on the opening drive as the 49ers managed to get off the field on third down. Marsh and Buckner ran a stunt that collapsed the left side of the pocket, and Arik Armstead, whose sheer size regularly commands double teams, eventually disengaged from two blockers and chased down Kirk Cousins, who had to throw the ball away.


Armstead was prominent on Buckner's second sack, which ended the first half, but secondary players were also incorporated as the Niners used some creative blitzing to their advantage. Again Armstead drew a double team, leaving Buckner in the extremely advantageous position of facing just one blocker, from whom he disengaged to hunt down Cousins after an excellently executed double defensive back blitz from Jimmie Ward and K'Waun Williams forced him from his spot.


As well as creative blitzes, sheer persistence also had an impact in generating pressure for the 49ers, with the extra effort of Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair leading to a sack shared by Buckner and Blair. Marsh, with the help of Armstead, was able to slip between the right tackle and guard, recovering his balance to force Cousins from the pocket and eventually into the grasp of Buckner and Blair, who managed to stay clean from a double team and the blocking of the left tackle respectively.


Crafting pressure that forces the quarterback into the path of other pass rushers is precisely how Kiffin's quarterback trap is designed to work. Going forward the 49ers will surely want to get 2017 third overall pick Solomon Thomas more involved and for such pressures to lead turnovers. Still, Week 1 was an encouraging start to Kiffin's grand plan and the 49ers defense will be a much more imposing proposition in 2018 should the trap continue to succeed.