San Francisco's vaunted defensive line helped the 49ers sit at, or at least near, the top of the league in a number of categories coming off of their 2019 campaign. Boasted as one of the NFL's top defensive units headlined by a bevy of first round talent up front, San Francisco ranked second-overall in the league in total defense and first against the pass last season.
The group ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed per game (281.8) and yards per play (4.66), first in forced fumbles (21), third in fumble recoveries (13) and fifth in sacks (48). While the figures are notable, they aren't satisfying for San Francisco's defensive line.
While San Francisco's pass rush was in a class of its own, it was a different story for the team's run defense. The 49ers were ranked 17th against the run, allowing an average of 112 yards per game. Arik Armstead, who heads into his sixth season in San Francisco, noted that improvement across the board is a must heading into the season.
"We were (at the) top in a lot of categories except run defense. We were middle of the pack," Armstead said. "We're definitely looking to get better in that aspect."
San Francisco's D-line is eager to improve in all facets this season. The unit aims to take strides forward with another year together as a group. Despite the offseason changes, notably, the loss of DeForest Buckner, Armstead acknowledged it's been a full team effort to get rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw adjusted and up to speed following a limited offseason.
Kinlaw appears to be in good hands, joining San Francisco's host of first round talent. The 49ers were the only team in the NFL to have four-or-more players with 6.5-or-more sacks during the 2019 regular season, headlined by Armstead who led the team with a career-high 10 sacks.
Additionally, the defensive lineman started all 16 games and registered single-season career-highs in tackles (54), forced fumbles (2) and fumble recoveries (1). He also started all three postseason games and notched eight tackles, 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble. His efforts earned him a lucrative five-year contract extension to keep him in red and gold through the 2024 season.
With hopes to build off of his career year, Armstead is poised (and eager) to take on a more prominent role as a base defensive end and nickel inside pass rusher.
"I do a lot of self-scouting," Armstead said. "I definitely want to work on my get off – getting off the ball better. Rushing better at defensive end and combining that with continuing to rush well from the inside as well. I'm just becoming a better all-around player, building off of the things I did last year and taking it to another level."
An uptick in play from every position will be beneficial as San Francisco looks to redeem themselves following last season's Super Bowl heartbreak. Boasting the league's top-rated defense last year is certainly something the unit aims to build upon. With the offseason enhancements, Armstead is hopeful these changes help differentiate making it back to the big game and leaving this time as a champion, should the opportunity present itself.
"We all have that ingrained in our brain," Armstead said. "It's all motivating us and pushing us to get back there. I think we had such an amazing year last year, and we want to continue to get better and move forward. I know we're all excited to get back to work and try to get back to the Super Bowl and win this time."