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The Art of Teamwork: How 49ers' lethal pass rush can slow Patrick Mahomes

Chris Biderman, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Football

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Nick Bosa's first-quarter sack of Aaron Rodgers wasn't done on his own.

The 49ers rookie was able to bring the Packers quarterback to the ground in last week's NFC Championship on a third down because he had help on the inside. DeForest Buckner beat the left guard as Bosa was bull rushing standout left tackle David Bakhtiari. Rodgers felt the pressure from Buckner and tried to escape to his left, allowing Bosa to peel off Bakhtiari and make the play toward the flat.

Without Buckner's pressure, Bakhtiari formed a wall preventing Bosa from sniffing Rodgers. And Bosa's push of Bakhtiari gave Buckner a lane over the guard's left shoulder. Buckner didn't get credit on the stat sheet but his work was key in Bosa netting the sack, his third in two playoff games.

It was one of many examples why San Francisco's revamped pass rush has been lethal this season. The team's top four pass rushers -- Bosa, Buckner, Arik Armstead and Dee Ford -- are all former first-round draft picks who can all win one-on-one matchups.

But they can also use their skills in tandem, which will be paramount in the Super Bowl against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

After all, the best way to bother a quarterback is pressure. Mahomes' passer rating drops from 113.4 to 95.1 when pressured this season, according to Pro Football Focus, while his adjusted completion rate drops nearly 10 percent.

 

San Francisco was the league's only team to have four players with at least 6.5 sacks in 2019. And it had 9.0 sacks in its two playoff games against Minnesota and Green Bay.

The Chiefs have the fastest group of skill players in the NFL, according to 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The less time Mahomes has in the pocket, the less likely his targets can get down field for explosive plays.

That will require San Francisco's talented defensive line to play with force both individually and collectively.

"Every week, whether you're playing a guy like Mahomes or a statue, it doesn't matter," Saleh said Thursday. "You have to have respect for where he is in the pocket. And your pass rush has to tie in with one another so that way you're just not carelessly rushing the passer to where even a statue can buy time and escape the pocket and create an explosive play through an off-schedule play. ... You're always rushing in unison, you're always paying respect to the quarterback in the pocket and you're always trying to keep him in there."

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