Nick Bosa was asked Wednesday whether he had any statistical goals heading into his second NFL season.
The 49ers edge rusher gave a perfect response.
“My goal this year,” Bosa said, “is to not think about that.”
The inquiry, as you might guess, specifically referred to sacks and whether he’d like to add Arizona’s Kyler Murray to the list of quarterbacks sacked on Sunday when the 49ers play a division rival at Levi’s Stadium.
Despite some in the analytics community telling you sacks are completely overrated, they ultimately stand as game-changing plays. They are often drive killers and, if done exactly right, they result in takeaways.
They are not, however, the one true benchmark of a quality pass rusher. Bosa is a perfect example of that. He had nine sacks last regular season. A total of 19 players had more. Would you trade Bosa for Markus Golden? He had more. What about 2019 sack leader Shaq Barrett? No way, no how.
That’s because Bosa is elite at creating havoc in all situations. That’s the true mark of a great defensive end, even if it’s harder to define.
The 49ers defensive line is ferocious off the edge and through the interior. They have a quality rotation and should be top tier even with DeForest Buckner an Indianapolis Colt. Sometimes teammates will pick Bosa up. These lions will ultimately share in each other’s spoils. Bosa created more pressure per pass-rush snap last year than anyone save Za’Darius Smith, T.J. Watt and Von Miller, according to Pro Football Focus.
Sometimes that pressure tallies a sack in the stat sheet, maybe an errant throw that becomes easy pickings downfield. Or maybe the quarterback bolts from Bosa right into Arik Armstead’s waiting arms. Maybe he pushes a passer toward Dee Ford screaming off the opposite edge. Maybe he helps gives Javon Kinlaw an easy shot at glory.
While there’s talent all across this defensive front, Bosa is its driving force. He’s a prototypical pass rusher, with all the speed and power and technical savvy to dominate anyone. Reading up on what others say about his ability is impressive, that he can beat you so many different ways. He knows how to set an opponent up for a big fall.
He’s a great hand fighter who can squat every plate in the gym, someone who can take advantage of even slight shifts in weight or temporary imbalance.
Bosa talked on Wednesday about starting film work a bit earlier in the game week this year, about relaying opponent tendencies to 49ers scout-team offensive tackles so they can better replicate his game-day experience. He doesn’t, however, want to over-study.
“I don’t watch film for a crazy amount of time,” Bosa said. “It’s not like I’m sitting there like [middle linebacker Fred Warner] does for hours and hours. You can start to overthink things as a defensive end. You just want to be playing fast.”
Play fast, create havoc, make others around you better. Those are traits of a truly dominant pass rusher, whether you lead the league is sacks or not.