When thinking of the San Francisco 49ers, one of the things that stands out right away is their defensive line.
The 49ers love to get pressure on the quarterback with their front four defenders and have been pretty successful doing so. With players like Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead at the defensive end positions, many times it’s a race to the quarterback to see who can get their first.
On Sunday, these two will be trying to take down Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz. Wentz has played very well the last few games as he has gotten back to full health. The connections he is building with his teammates are obvious, and it is leading to explosive plays.
However, Wentz can’t be effective if he is running for his life. The 49ers, and Bosa, in particular, are looking to put pressure on Wentz all night long and force him into mistakes.
So, who will be tasked with containing the 6’4”, 266-pound Bosa? None other than left tackle Eric Fisher.
Fisher came to the Colts this offseason after playing the first eight seasons of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft was selected to two Pro Bowls in his time with the Chiefs and established himself as one of the better left tackles in the league.
Unfortunately, Fisher tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship game on January 24. The significant injury coupled with the Chiefs’ need to free up cap space led to Fisher being cut. That’s when he received a call from Colts general manager Chris Ballard.
Ballard was with the Chiefs organization with Fisher and had developed a relationship with the Pro Bowler. With the Colts needing a new starting left tackle after the retirement of Anthony Castonzo, Ballard reached out to Fisher to see how his rehab was coming along and if Fisher would be available for the season. After getting the green light from the Colts’ doctors, Fisher was brought aboard.
It wasn’t known when Fisher would be ready to play this season. The Colts did not want to rush him but knew that Fisher was ahead of schedule. Miraculously, Fisher started Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams, less than eight months after tearing his Achilles.
Although Fisher was able to return to the field quickly, he has yet to fully regain his Pro Bowl form. In the running game, Fisher has been excellent at moving defenders and sealing off blocks, leading to explosive runs from running backs Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Marlon Mack.
Pass protection has been more of a struggle. Fisher has been beaten numerous times off the edge so far this season, particularly by speed rushers. It has led to far more pressures on Wentz than what Fisher expects out of himself.
Part of the reason for this is Fisher is trying to play himself back into football shape. Regaining his explosiveness after surgery is key to containing speed rushers.
“Obviously, it’s a pretty crazy injury,” Fisher explained after his season debut in Week 2. “And the one thing I was told going into surgery, post-surgery and throughout rehab is like the last thing to come is that quick-twitch explosiveness. So, I think whether I came back Week 2, Week 4, Week 6 – whatever it was, there was going to be an adjustment in quick-twitch training experience there.”
“I’m just working my butt off,” he continued. “Doing everything I can to build that. It’s something I can’t control. I can only control how I work with it and that’s what I’m doing. But no excuses, if I’m out there I’m expected to do a job to a certain standard and that’s what I’m working for.”
It's been a slow process for Fisher. The improvements in pass protection have not come as quickly as he would like. But head coach Frank Reich sees improvement and has confidence that Fisher will get back to form.
“I think he’s getting better every week,” Reich said this week. “There’s times you can tell – at times I think he’s back into midseason form … He knows that he’s got to play himself back into football shape and build the positional strength that you need for there. I think he’s playing well. He’s had a few mishaps here and there along the way, but I’m happy with his progression. I’m happy with his mindset. I think he’s going to continue to get better, as we all are.”
Fisher is going to have his biggest test of the season on Sunday. Bosa comes into the game with five sacks in five games. He uses a plethora of moves to get by offensive tackles and get to the quarterback.
A nine-year veteran in the NFL, Fisher has faced players like Bosa before. He will need to rely on that experience and his healing body to make sure Bosa doesn’t wreck the game. The winner of this matchup could be the difference between a Colts win, or coming home 2-5.
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