Don’t be fooled — sackless Nick Bosa made his presence felt for SF 49ers against Steelers

49ers used nine defensive linemen to overwhelm Pittsburgh’s offensive front in opener

For as much anxiety as there was surrounding edge rusher Nick Bosa’s holdout and potential availability for the regular season opener on Sunday, the 49ers’ blowout road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t have gone much better.

First, when Bosa agreed to terms and arrived at the team facility last Wednesday, it provided a shot of adrenaline and enthusiasm for the entire team as they finalized preparations for what turned out to be a 30-7 season-opening victory.

The impact of Bosa’s arrival was felt not only by the 49ers, but also by the Pittsburgh offensive line, which was bombarded by wave after wave of defensive linemen as coach Kris Kocurek shuttled nine players in and out to keep them fresh.

Bosa ended up playing 35 snaps — only tackles Javon Hargrave (42) and Arik Armstead (41) played more — with two tackles and none of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett’s five sacks.

Nonetheless, according to Pro Football Focus rankings, Bosa had the highest lineman score of 85.5, one point ahead of Clelin Ferrell (84.5). And Bosa’s presence has had an impact on coach Kyle Shanahan since the now-$34 million-per-year player arrived as the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft.

“That’s really been the case since Nick’s been here,” Shanahan said during a conference call with local media on Monday. “That’s why we really wanted to go out and get Javon.”

Up front, the 49ers were dominant across the board, with Hargrave and Armstead collapsing the pocket from the inside. Despite not recording a tackle, Armstead received a consistent push up the middle. Hargrave had one, while second-year end Drake Jackson had three and Kerry Hyder Jr. had one.

Because there will be no training camp, Shanahan expects Bosa to work out a lot of soreness over the next few days before preparations begin Wednesday for the Rams game in Los Angeles on Sunday.

“We just wanted to take into account his recovery after (the game),” Shanahan explained. “We were really happy to get a win and make it to the play count without going over.”

Following Hargrave, Armstead, and Bosa, the defensive snap counts were as follows: Ferrell (31), Jackson (28), Javon Kinlaw (24), Kevin Givens (20), Hyder (16), and Austin Bryant (16).

According to Shanahan, Kinlaw, a former first-round draft pick who has battled injuries his first three seasons, made progress and helped clear the way for linebacker Fred Warner to flatten Najee Harris for a 2-yard loss on first down on Pittsburgh’s second possession.

“When Warner had that TFL (tackle for loss) when he just shot the C gap, Kinlaw took up the center and guard, which allowed Fred to make a big play,” Shanahan explained. “I think Kinlaw did his job.”

Mismatch between McKivitz and Watt

Right tackle Colton McKivitz took three sacks from Pittsburgh’s top edge rusher T.J. Watt, but it’s worth noting that by the time Watt got his first sack, the 49ers were already up 17-0.

“Watt’s as good as it gets on the edge, especially in a loud atmosphere, especially early in that game, but he kept battling, and I think he’ll do better next week,” Shanahan said.

Wilks’ first season as defensive coordinator

Except for a 95-yard scoring drive in the final two minutes of the first half, the 49ers shut out the Steelers in defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ debut as DeMeco Ryans’ replacement.

“My goal was just to play with the right intent, to play hard from the first play to the last,” Shanahan said. “That made me very proud of our team.” Our defense set the tone early on, going three-and-out. They were well-intentioned. We have a lot of room for improvement. But they flew to the ball, and they’ve been who they’ve always been, and it was really cool to see that happen for the first time with Steve.”

The monster game of Aiyuk

Brandon Aiyuk justified all the compliments thrown his way after a strong training camp with eight receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns, though Shanahan isn’t expecting those numbers every week.

“You never know how it’s going to play out,” said Shanahan. “However, he was given eight chances and took all eight of them.” That does not imply that you will receive more. Sometimes it means you get more attention, and then they take it away, which benefits others. The most impressive thing about B.A. is how prepared he was to play regardless.”

Actually, his pancake block of Damontae Kazee while leading Christian McCaffrey on a 65-yard scoring run in the third quarter was the coolest thing. Ray-Ray McCloud, who only played three offensive snaps, also contributed.

Rest assured, the video will be played frequently in the receivers’ room.

“It was as good a clip as you could have to show how important every play, regardless of type, is to us,” Shanahan said.

Quick strikes

— Defensive back Shanahan stated that Ambry Thomas passed his concussion evaluation on both Sunday and Monday. There were no other injuries announced by the 49ers.

— First-year kicker Because of a quadriceps injury, Jake Moody, who had three field goals in his debut replacing Robbie Gould, gave way to Mitch Wishnowsky for kickoff duties. Moody will be evaluated this week to see if he is ready to kickoff against the Rams on Sunday.

— Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir was called for a personal foul for a late sideline hit that Shanahan thought could have been avoided, but he was praised for his aggressive play overall.

“You want players who are very close to that line,” Shanahan explained. “The game is far too fast and physical to pause and consider things.” Demo has proven to be a tough, physical player over the last year and a half.”

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