Arik Armstead

49ers' D-line hitting its stride heading into pivotal Eagles clash

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The 49ers' defensive line has been on a roll since Chase Young joined via trade on Halloween, but he hasn't been the only factor.

Javon Hargrave, who had a career-high 11 sacks for the Philadelphia Eagles last season, experienced a slow start in the Bay after signing a four-year, $84 million contract in free agency. He's started to hit his stride, though, building chemistry with Arik Armstead and the D-line as a whole.

"We just know how to communicate," Hargrave said Wednesday of his budding partnership with Armstead. "We tell each other everything, what we're seeing, and really communicate off the field, too, like during this week, just telling him things, little tips we get.

"Yeah, I think I got it now," Hargrave added. "Knowing all my plays, knowing what we're trying to do."

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan certainly has noticed Hargrave's increased comfort level, in particular in playing with Armstead.

“I think they’ve played really well off each other,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “I know our production and everything’s gone up huge with our D-line. That’s kind of what I mean by just the whole group has been doing really well together."

Hargrave had just three sacks in his first eight games, then recorded three in the 49ers' next three contests. He has 32 tackles — 17 solo and seven for a loss -- and 12 quarterback hits this season.

Armstead’s production also has increased, with 4.5 sacks in four games, after he recorded just a half-sack in the first seven contests. That shows the 49ers' defensive tackles have worked well off each other, as they have more opportunities with Young and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa sealing the edges.

“Well, I see that they’ve got their legs back, they're fresh," 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said Thursday. "They have completely, in my opinion, controlled the line of scrimmage the last couple of weeks. It's going to be a challenge this week, but that's the one thing that we talked about. We’ve got to do a great job inside with our tackles."

Said Shanahan: “I think Hargrave, he’s been real consistent all year. I think the game he struggled in the most was the Cincinnati game [a 31-17 49ers loss on Oct. 29, two days before the Young trade]. I think that he was a guy who looked like he needed rest more than anyone just at that time. I think he got that, and he’s looked the same as every other game.”

Hargrave was on the field for 44 defensive snaps -- or 70 percent -- in that Week 8 loss to the Bengals and failed to record a single stat. Since then, however, he has been very productive.

“It’s never just one guy,” Shanahan said. “It’s been one guy a lot here and there, all different guys, but all of them collectively, I feel like they are at the top of their game right now. You go through ebbs and flows throughout the year, and I feel like they’ve been at the top of their game the last couple weeks.

“You get better or worse. So, hopefully we can keep that going.”

Hargrave and Armstead's interior production also has increased Bosa's stat line, as he recorded 2.5 sacks over the first seven games but burst out for 5.5 through the next four contests.

"Just having the confidence that he's going to do his job is enough," Bosa said Wednesday about what Hargrave has added. "If he's hitting it in the B-gap, if you know he's going to get that penetration, it makes me confident that what I'm doing, I have that covered up."

It appears the 49ers' D-line just needed a little time to get completely in sync, which should help them in Sunday's showdown with Hargrave's former team, the 10-1 Eagles.

"I'm happy he's on our side and not their side this time around," 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said Wednesday. "Just been so consistent for us, in terms of getting just disruption in the middle of our defensive line. He's been such a key piece to what we do all season long, the ability to be available every single week, staying healthy, being as disruptive as he is. Physical, out the stack, he fit right in to what we do as soon as he got here, so I'm not surprised at all at the way that he's produced and been the player that we need him to be."

If Hargrave is the player the 49ers need him to be this week, they'll likely leave with a victory.

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