The San Francisco 49ers offensive line showed signs of improvement against the Detroit Lions last Sunday. There were fewer injuries and more points on the scoreboard. They had a much-improved rushing attack which helped decimate the Lions down the stretch.
However, they did show a decisive weakness in the red zone as the offense struggled to score consistently in that part of the field. Overall, it was a total team effort which saw the 49ers win their first game of the season 30-27. There is much work left to be done for this group to be considered elite. This is a preview of the Week 3 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs and a breakdown of the offensive line play against the Lions.
Preview Versus The Chiefs
Unlike the previous two opponents the 49ers have faced, the Kansas City Chiefs defensive line is not known for having a great pass rush. This is due to their 3-4 scheme which relies more on the outside linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2, Jones had just a single tackle. Bailey had the Chiefs’ lone sack as they tried to get consistent pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who threw an astounding 60 passes in the game.
Xavier Williams is the lone man in the middle at nose tackle and is in his first season with the Chiefs. He spent the first three years of his career with the Arizona Cardinals. He collected three tackles against the Steelers and figures to be a matchup nightmare against the 49ers interior offensive line.
Overall, the Chiefs defensive line is unimpressive in their pass rush. They have very few moves outside of a bull rush and rarely stunt. However, their bull rush is very strong and they often push the offensive linemen back quickly.
The Chiefs primarily rely on their talented outside linebackers for rushing the quarterback. Dee Ford has yet to be invited to a Pro Bowl but he is on the rise. He had a career-high in sacks in 2016. His 2017 season was cut short due to injury and he only had two sacks during that season. While he did not record a sack against the Steelers he was able to take down Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in the first game of the season.
Justin Houston is the Chiefs’ best pass rusher. He has been to the Pro Bowl four times and has terrorized NFL quarterbacks over his eight year career. He had 9.5 sacks in 2017. His best season was 2014 when he had an astounding 22 sacks.
Like many great pass rushers, Houston lines up in numerous spots on the field and is a constant terror for every member of the offensive line. The 49ers offensive line will have a long day if they can’t contain Houston.
The Chiefs bring a unique challenge to the 49ers. While their scheme may be simple at times, their pass rushers are some of the best in the NFL. Their defensive line is strong and can disrupt a ground attack. In many ways, this is like a heavyweight fight where the better fighter is the one who lands a blow just before the other man has time to react. Will the 49ers offensive line beat the Chiefs to the punch or will they crumble? This will be answered on Sunday.
Review Versus The Lions
The offensive line did well in the running game. Running back Matt Breida ran for 138 yards on just 11 carries, including an impressive 66-yard touchdown run. On that run, he followed the zone blocking of the 49ers offensive line, looking for a hole to weave through.
He found that breathing room between guard Mike Person and tight end Garrett Celek. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey provided the key block by taking on a linebacker at the second level. This block proved to be critical as Breida was able to use his athleticism the rest of the way for an exhilarating touchdown run.
Breida had a number of other good running plays including a nifty 19-yard gain in the third quarter. On this play, the 49ers were able to utilize their Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Laken Tomlinson. Breida especially benefitted from Staley who blocked the nickel back immediately after the ball was snapped.
The unit also performed well in short yardage situations. Facing third-and-one at their own 34-yard line, running back Alfred Morris followed the blocking of Weston Richburg and Person for a pivotal six-yard gain. This gain would prove to be the pivotal play on the 49ers first touchdown-scoring drive of the game.
Garoppolo faked a handoff to Pettis and quickly flipped the ball to Breida who was running directly in front of him. Breida quickly glided around the left end for an eight-yard gain. The offensive line did well in holding their blocks long enough for the creativity behind them to develop. The Niners then scored two plays later.
The offensive line was not good in protecting Garoppolo, particularly in the red zone. He was sacked six times in the game, three more than the previous week against the Vikings. However, they did show flashes of good pass protection in the red zone on a pair of touchdown scores. It is worth noting that these two instances were quick passing plays giving the Lions very little time to pressure Garoppolo.
The 49ers clearly struggled to score consistently in the red zone. The primary reason for this is an inability to adjust the blocking scheme against the blitz. On the second sack of the game, McGlinchey was beat by outside linebacker Devon Kennard.
Not all running plays were successful. McGlinchey chose the wrong defender to block and Breida was tackled for a loss. Da’Shawn Hand was lined up in front of McGlinchey and went untouched for the tackle while McGlinchey chose to block a linebacker after briefly helping Person with his assignment.
On the 49ers first drive of the game, they were in the red zone when Garoppolo got sacked. Much of this has to do with an unusual scheme by the Lions defense.
Linebacker Jarrad Davis waited until every offensive lineman was engaged with a defender before blitzing from the outside. Tight end George Kittle was locked up with defensive end and was too late to get to the block on Davis.
In the second quarter, the 49ers were at the 14-yard line when Garoppolo got sacked for the third time. What makes this unique is how long he waited to throw. He waited five seconds and could not find an open receiver before the defense got to him.
Former 49er Eli Harold, an outside linebacker, started from the outside but eventually came between Staley and Tomlinson. The tackle and guard were split just in time for Harold to make the sack.