The 49ers offensive line faced an athletic Minnesota Vikings defensive line unit to start the 2018 season. While the line held its own for much of the game, injuries and relentless blitzes took their toll. The 49ers ultimately lost 24-16 but their offensive line showed glimpses of promise in the midst of defeat.
The left side of the 49ers offensive line did well in the run game. In the second quarter, running back Alfred Morris followed Joe Staley for a 13 yard gain. This gain was helped set up by left guard Laken Tomlinson who successfully blocked Linval Joseph just long enough for Morris to get into the secondary.
A few plays later Morris gained another 11 yards. This time it was not just the guys on the left who made the difference but the complete harmony of the offensive line. At the start of the play, they pulled to the right, seeking the first defender to block, running head coach Kyle Shanahan‘s zone blocking scheme perfectly.
On that particular sack, Richardson beat right guard Mike Person which forced quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out of the pocket. This gave Griffen the opportunity to successfully bring Garoppolo to the ground.
Garoppolo threw three interceptions in the game, one of which was due to a timely blitzing by the Vikings. That particular interception, the first of the game, was returned for a touchdown. The Vikings blitzed from the right side, overwhelming rookie Mike McGlinchey and Garry Gilliam on the play. McGlinchey slid over from his right tackle spot to right guard due to injuries and Gilliam was filling in at tackle.
The Vikings were creative on this blitz by bringing the nickel back and a linebacker. Along with blocking two defensive linemen, the right side of the 49ers offensive line was clearly overwhelmed and Garoppolo was forced to rush his throw resulting in the interception.
The Ugly (Unfortunate):
Not all turnovers are the same. Sometimes it is the offensive line’s fault and other times it is not. Garoppolo’s second interception was unfortunate but it was not the offensive line to blame.
The Vikings brought another heavy blitz but it was up the middle and the offensive line picked it up. The linemen did well helping each other block the various defenders and the pocket was clean for the duration of the play.
Not all running plays were successful as Morris did fumble at the goal line in the second quarter. However, unlike most of the turnovers in the game, this one happened due to an opportunistic defense. Strong safety Andrew Sendejo timed his blitz from the edge just right to force the turnover.
The 49ers suffered a rash of injuries at right guard throughout the game. Both Person and Joshua Garnett went down with foot injuries. McGlinchey’s willingness and poise to sub at right guard when pressed was telling of his winning attitude. The situation at right guard will probably remain fluid until game time.
Preview Vs. The Lions
The Detroit Lions pose a demanding threat for the 49ers offensive line. They do not have as much talent across the defensive line as the Vikings, however, they do have excellent pass rushers off the edge and are athletic in the middle.
They also have a new head coach, Matt Patricia, who was the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. The Bill Belichick disciple will undoubtedly draw up some defensive schemes to confuse the 49ers offensive line.
Ansah is out to prove himself worthy of a lucrative long-term contract after the Lions elected to place the franchise tag on him. He recorded four total tackles against the New York Jets along with a sack in Week 1. He did leave the game with a shoulder injury but has participated in practice this week and will most likely play against the 49ers on Sunday.
Hyder mans the other side of the line. He missed the entire 2017 season with a torn Achilles but recorded a career-high eight sacks in 2016. He collected three tackles against the Jets in his first game back from injury.
The Lions have a combination of size and speed in the interior of their defensive line. They have Sylvester Williams and former 49er Ricky Jean-Francois plugging holes in the offensive line. Both are listed at 6-foot-3 and 313 pounds which are large enough to stuff the run and lithe enough to chase down quarterbacks. Williams had one unassisted tackle against the Jets while Jean-Francois had three.
The 49ers offensive line is in for an intellectual challenge. While the Lions are still adjusting to Patricia’s defensive philosophy, the NFL is a copycat league where opposing teams tend to use the same blueprint. Seeing how the 49ers were exposed due to a rash of injuries at right guard, it is reasonable to believe that the Lions will try to expose that position with timely blitzes.
As of Thursday, both Garnett and Person have not participated in practice. Due to this they may use Najee Toran at right guard. He is an undrafted rookie who was just promoted from the practice squad and took practice reps with the first team offense this past week.
However they utilize their offensive line, the game should prove to be a chess match against a defensive mastermind who has a fierce pass rushing duo at his disposal.