At the start of a pivotal offseason, it was unclear how much of a role Dee Ford would play for the San Francisco 49ers after he missed almost all of 2020 with persistent back issues. In a Week 1 win over the Detroit Lions that proved too close for comfort, Ford made it clear he will be crucial to the Niners’ 2021 fortunes.
San Francisco was dominant for the vast majority of the 41-33 success at Ford Field. Though Nick Bosa’s battle with rookie left tackle Penei Sewell was a relatively even one, the 49ers largely enjoyed control on both sides of the trenches, Ford offering a reminder of why they traded a second-round pick for his services back in 2019.
Ford, along with Bosa, finished with five pressures (per Pro Football Focus) and a sack in a display that indicated his previous back troubles would be no hindrance to him enjoying a bounce-back season.
The former Kansas City Chief consistently showcased the speed and burst off the edge that has made him such a difficult pass rusher to stop, with Ford doing an excellent job of using his flexibility to bend and flatten to the quarterback and translating his speed to power to drive pass protectors backwards.
And when the Niners most needed him to deliver in Week 1, Ford answered the bell.
Ford, Bosa and Samson Ebukam each produced pressures to affect Lions quarterback Jared Goff as he attempted to lead Detroit on a drive to tie the game amid a remarkable near-collapse from the Niners, preventing him from getting the ball into the endzone and forcing a game-clinching turnover on downs.
The 49ers will perhaps need to rely even more on Ford and the front to create pressure given the injuries they have already suffered to their starting defense.
San Francisco lost Jason Verrett for the season after he suffered a torn ACL in Detroit and will be without Dre Greenlaw for six to eight weeks, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, with the linebacker undergoing core muscle surgery.
They are significant but survivable blows to DeMeco Ryans’ defense and, for the Niners to withstand those losses, they will need the defensive line to continue to excel at pressuring the quarterback.
Bosa, Ford and Co. will have a difficult task against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2. According to PFF, in their Week 1 win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Eagles’ offensive line allowed just six pressures of quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has the mobility to escape the rush on a consistent basis and make things happen with his legs.
Yet, with their two premier outside pass rushers available, the 49ers unquestionably have the talent up front to cause problems for any defensive line in the NFL.
After a return to peak performance that appeared unlikely at the start of the new league year, the onus is on Ford to stay healthy and regularly produce for a defense that may have to lean on its line to succeed in 2021.