The 49ers Offensive Line: Week 4
The 49ers offensive line had a rough time against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday. They were going up against a weaker defensive line yet they gave up four sacks in the game. The Niners had a consistent ground game but quickly were playing down by a large deficit.
Things took a dark turn late in the fourth quarter as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL on a scramble and will be lost for the season. With C.J. Beathard now under center the offensive line will have the task of affording the backup quarterback enough time in the pocket to make reads and make plays.
Preview Versus The Chargers
The Chargers feature a unique front involving three defensive ends and one nose tackle. Darius Philon is a speedy defensive end playing the tackle position. He had a career-high 4.5 sacks in 2017 and has combined for seven tackles so far this season without recording a sack.
The Chargers have two of the NFL’s premier pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but Bosa is out until midseason with a foot injury which is a huge blow to the Chargers defense. Bosa had 12.5 sacks in 2017 and was invited to his first Pro Bowl. Without him, the defense has struggled. In just three games, Los Angeles has allowed 93 points which is second worst in the NFL behind the New Orleans Saints.
Filling in for Bosa is Isaac Rochell. As a rookie in 2017, Rochell appeared in three games and recorded one sack. He does not have any sacks this year but does have 11 tackles.
Ingram recorded 10.5 sacks in 2017 and went to the Pro Bowl. He has been relatively quiet in 2018 with just 1.5 sacks, all of which were against a weak Buffalo Bills team. Despite the lack of production, he is very versatile.
The Chargers have used his speed against the interior offensive line by having him occasionally line up as a linebacker over the guard without a defensive tackle. He can cause confusion by quickly moving from the guard to the offensive tackle on the other side of the line at the start of the play. This scheme makes it extremely difficult to figure out where he is on the field and where he’s going.
The Chargers seem to be more creative with their interior defensive line than the 49ers past opponents. Los Angeles stunts in the middle of the field on occasion. They also load up on one side at the goal line. This leaves only one outside linebacker to defend the other side.
Brandon Mebane mans the middle at nose tackle. At 6-foot-1, 311 pounds he is relatively small for a defensive tackle. He recorded 16 tackles in 2017 but is still a presence against the run. He does have some pass rushing moves including a spin move. However, due to his lack of speed, his primary move is the bull rush.
Mebane is remarkably versatile for a nose tackle and the Chargers use his adaptability to great effect in the red zone. On occasion, he backs up in the defensive backfield at the start of the play to guard against the slot receiver. While the Chargers only brought three pass rushers in this situation against the Rams, it would not be surprising to see them employ a blitz scheme while using Mebane to cover the middle.
The Chargers are clever in the middle of the field. On a second down play against the Rams, they had a five-man front with two on the left and three on the right side of the offensive line. No one was over the center or right guard which left a sizeable gap in the middle of the line.
Phillips was clearly overmatched against right tackle Rob Havenstein and could not overcome the 6-foot-8, 330-pound human wall in front of him. Davis was more successful against center John Sullivan but did not have enough time to make a pass rushing move. Although it may have been unsuccessful in this instance, with schemes such as this, 49ers will have a mental workout blocking throughout the game.
Review Versus The Chiefs
On the 49ers first drive of the game, the offensive line tried to pave a path on the right side. Unfortunately, the Chiefs defensive line did a fantastic job containing the running lanes.
Breida reversed field while the 49ers blocked the majority of the Chiefs defenders. This play went for an impressive 27 yards and truly portrayed the teamwork involved in a running play.
A couple of plays later, the offensive line made the perfect pocket for Garoppolo to complete the pass. The Chiefs defensive line is not the most talented but is very strong and can easily push back an offensive line. The 49ers held their own and did not allow a defensive lineman to come close to Garoppolo.
The offensive line did well in short yardage situations. Twice on their second drive they were one yard away from the first down. They gave enough effort to allow the running back to gain the first down.
Joe Staley had a tall task in containing Dee Ford for the majority of the game. He allowed one sack but he showed tenacity throughout the game. On one particular play late in the second quarter, he was able to move Ford from the outside and brought him inside the pocket. While this is generally not a good idea, Garoppolo was agile enough to move outside the pocket and make the completion. Staley stayed with Ford step for step during the entire play.
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan usually features a trick play or two in his game plan and this week was no exception. Midway through the fourth quarter, Garoppolo handed the ball to fullback Kyle Juszczyk who then pitched the ball to Breida. The offensive line did well in sustaining their blocks throughout the chaos of the play. No defensive lineman came close to disrupting the backfield and the 49ers enjoyed an 11 yard gain.
The 49ers offensive line had trouble with the Chiefs’ 3-4 scheme. Going into the game it was obvious that Justin Houston was the Chiefs best pass rusher and he proved that analysis correct.
He had two sacks in the game while the 49ers were preoccupied with the Chiefs powerful bull rush. The 49er who had the most trouble with Houston was Mike McGlinchey. The rookie tackle fought hard but was caught off guard by Houston’s athleticism which was evident late in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers were in Chiefs territory and Houston was able to use a perfect blend of power and speed to catch McGlinchey off-balance. This resulted in a sack and fumble although the 49ers did recover the ball.
Ford also took advantage of the 49ers miscues and recorded a sack in the first quarter against Staley. Ford has unique speed and was able to draw Staley far outside the pocket. Since Ford is much faster than Staley he was able to beat him in this foot race to the quarterback. Staley did not allow Ford to do this again the rest of the game.
Late in the fourth quarter, the 49ers were trying to mount a comeback when disaster struck. Garoppolo could not find anyone open and took off running. He tried to pivot before going out of bounds and tore his ACL ending his season.
On this play, McGlinchey had trouble with Houston from the start and it was clear that Garoppolo was going to be in trouble very soon. However, Garoppolo is known for his nimble feet and was able to get out of the sack.
Mike Person had knocked Chris Jones off his feet at the snap but when Garoppolo freed himself from Houston, Jones very nearly got the sack. McGlinchey redeemed himself by blocking Jones just enough to free Garoppolo up for that fateful run.
Over the first three weeks of the season, the 49ers offensive line has been relatively consistent. They have struggled to improve their pass protection while continuing to get better in run blocking.
As a result, Breida is currently tied with Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for most rushing yards in the NFL. While their prowess in the running game is good, their biggest shortcomings are in the passing game.
McGlinchey has done well to start his career but he is often confused or outmatched against faster opponents. Due to the various schemes of the Chargers, the 49ers offensive line will have to dramatically improve their pass protection if they want to keep Beathard upright.