BOARDMAN, Ohio – The 49ers diagnosed the problem, and started with Dee Ford to remedy the biggest issue that plagued the team last season.
The 49ers generated just seven takeaways, including two interceptions, while compiling a lowly 4-12 record in 2018.
In the 49ers’ season-opening win on Sunday at Tampa Bay, they did not suit up any newcomers in the defensive backfield. But the face of the outside pass rush changed dramatically with the additions of Ford, acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round draft pick in 2020, and rookie Nick Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick.
“I was really happy how they got in the backfield, and not just those two but it seemed like the whole D-line,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said following the 49ers’ 31-17 victory over the Buccaneers, a game that featured four takeaways, including three interceptions.
Ford, meanwhile, was merely satisfied – for now.
“We got a lot of things, me included – me, especially – to get better at,” said Ford, 28, who recorded a career-best 13 sacks last season in Kansas City. “But we’ll take the result.”
Ford played 41 of the 49ers’ 70 defensive snaps. There were 30 plays in which he rushed the passer, and he had one sack (he stripped Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston of the ball), one hit and one hurry, according to Pro Football Focus. Bosa had a solid NFL debut with six total pressures in 27 pass-rush opportunities.
“With our potential, I always expect to take over a game,” Ford said. “We made key plays, but there’s a difference between making plays and taking over a game. We hit a couple of spurts where we just need to get home. I just need to be better. It’s Game 1, and we need to get better.”
One of the key plays occurred late in the game when Ford, Bosa and Arik Armstead each applied pressure from different directions on Winston, who attempted to dump of a screen pass to a running back who got tied up in traffic. The pass went directly to 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who intercepted the pass and returned it 25 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
“That’s the recipe,” Ford said. “That’s what we want more of. We understand as a D-lineman, there’s more in the tank. There’s more in the tank.”
Ford admitted to feeling the effects of missing most of training camp with knee tendinitis. He returned to practice two weeks ago after undergoing a platelet-rich plasma injection early in camp. Ford sat out each of the 49ers’ four games of the preseason.
“There was a lot of rust,” Ford said. “Not having preseason, trying to get healthy and all that, I just had to knock some stuff off. I expect a whole lot more from myself, but I’ll take it and we’ll move forward.
“I can be a lot better. I felt a little sluggish out of my stance. But that’s things you work out. Day by day, week by week, we’re going to get better. That’s why we love having 16 games a year, plus postseason.”