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When Nick Bosa went down late in the second quarter it looked like the 49ers and their 16-7 lead might be in trouble. Bosa has spearheaded their pass rush all season and without him on the edge their weakened defensive line might make their secondary susceptible to an explosive Dallas passing attack. A trio of 49ers defensive linemen stepped up to sack Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott four times in the second half, and that trio was made up entirely of unlikely heroes for San Francisco.
Charles Omenihu, Samson Ebukam and Arden Key led the way for the 49ers with Bosa sidelined. Omenihu was acquired in a mid-season trade with the Texans, Ebukam signed a relatively modest two-year, $12 million contract this offseason, and Key joined the club on a one-year deal worth just over $1 million.
That trio Sunday accounted for 13 pressures, three sacks, one QB hit and nine hurries.
Omenihu led the way with a team-high six pressures while playing 34 snaps – 14 more than his previous single-game high since joining the 49ers. He accounted officially for 1.5 sacks.
Ebukam struggled out of the gate but came on strong in the second half of the year and carried that into Sunday with four pressures and 0.5 sacks. The 49ers added him to be a tertiary edge rusher who could thrive in a more specific defensive end role than the one he played for the Rams as an outside linebacker. Early returns weren’t promising, but his play has elevated to the point that he can be a reliable rotational replacement if Bosa isn’t available. That showed in a big way in Dallas.
Sunday’s performance for Key wasn’t necessarily an ‘out-of-nowhere’ effort. He was very good in the regular season, especially when rushing from the interior. He didn’t record a sack, but he did notch three pressures and three hurries. Key’s consistent production with and without Bosa has been one of the big reasons the 49ers put together such a good defensive effort this year.
It’s been clear since head coach Kyle Shanahan arrived that the 49ers would build their defense from the front to the back. Affecting the quarterback is their No. 1 goal and doing that without Bosa isn’t easy. It’s a credit to the front office, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans that the 49ers were able to not only survive without their No. 1 defensive end, but continue thriving in the most important area of their defense.
If San Francisco gets more performances like these with Bosa back in the lineup, they’re going to be very tough for any team to move the ball against.