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Max Protect Cuts Down Sacks, But Vance Joseph Likes It For His Defense

Notes: Watt not sweating sackless start; Murphy, Edmonds still sidelined

Linebacker Chandler Jones tries to get around Rams All-Pro tackle Andrew Whitworth during last weekend's win in Los Angeles.
Linebacker Chandler Jones tries to get around Rams All-Pro tackle Andrew Whitworth during last weekend's win in Los Angeles.

Linebacker Chandler Jones and defensive end J.J. Watt headline a daunting front seven that is one of the best in the NFL, and through four games, the Cardinals have ten sacks in 2021, tied for sixth-most in the NFL.

But Jones doesn't have a sack since the opener, and Watt is still chasing his first, and defensive coordinator coach Vance Joseph says the reason stems from opposing teams electing to use more pass protectors to block their defenders.

"Everyone is max protecting," Joseph said. "They're giving us three-man (pass) routes. I can simply blitz the max protection, but it makes no sense for our secondary. Right now (this) is working for our team."

The Cardinals' pass rush is putting heat on quarterbacks. For example, Jones has ten quarterback pressures in 2021, second-most in the NFL. But when they get to the signal-caller, the ball is usually gone.

Sunday won't be any easier. The 49ers have allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the NFL, and their offensive line is anchored by left tackle Trent Williams, who has yet to allow a sack in 250 active snaps this season.

"Hopefully, teams unlock the protection and give us five-man routes," Joseph said. "But right now, it's three-man routes, and they're blocking those guys [Jones and Watt] with two people. I don't blame them. I don't mind it, because they have three receivers out and I have five DBs, I'm going to win third downs."


Watt signed with the Cardinals for one reason: winning. It's why the three time Defensive Player of the Year is not bothered about the notion he has yet to record a sack.

"We're 4-0; I don't care," Watt said with a chuckle.

That does not mean Watt has been unproductive. Watt has nine quarterback hurries, third-most in the NFL, and the third-highest Pass Rush Win Rate for interior defensive linemen (according to ESPN) at 22 percent, trailing only the Eagles' Javon Hargrave and the Rams' Aaron Donald

Watt knows he has been close on numerous potential sacks. He remains patient in that area while focusing on winning and impacting the game even without it showing on the box score.

"You'd like to have the big numbers and flashy plays, but it's all about winning," Watt said. "The sacks will come, and they come in bunches in this league. But as long as we're winning, that's all that matters."


Cornerback Byron Murphy (ribs), running back Chase Edmonds (shoulder), and offensive lineman Justin Murray (back) did not practice Thursday. Friday will be a big day for starters Murphy and Edmonds for their availability on Sunday. Cornerback Marco Wilson (ankle), who had practiced fully Wednesday, was downgraded to limited Thursday.

Cornerback Antonio Hamilton (back), offensive lineman Justin Pugh (hip), tight end Maxx Williams (shoulder) offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum (ribs), and running back Eno Benjamin (hamstring).

For the 49ers, defensive end Arik Armstead (rest), defensive end Samson Ebukam (Hamstring), quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (calf), defensive tackle D.J. Jones (knee), tight end George Kittle (Calf), cornerback K'Waun Williams (calf) did not practice.

Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (knee), running back Elijah Mitchell (shoulder), cornerback Josh Norman (chest) were limited at practice.