In week one, the San Francisco 49ers felt pretty good about their offensive line. The Seattle Seahawks don't have the greatest defense, but their defensive line has generally been decent with pressure, and they were manhandled by the 49ers offensive linemen. They didn't give up a single sack and everybody patted themselves on the back. And then DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas Cowboys came to town, and it was an absolute disaster.
Ware beat guys and was in the backfield consistently, with the offensive line and Moran Norris, the fullback, missing blocks left and right. Six sacks were given up then, and it didn't stop there. When the team hit the road to go to Cincinnati, they were blasted again, this time by the Bengals, giving up five sacks and giving up pressure to Smith many more times than that. Chilo Rachal was a revolving door, and Adam Snyder didn't do much better in relief. Anthony Davis continued to make mental errors and Joe Staley didn't look like a franchise left tackle while he was being dominated by Frostee Rucker for a few plays.
There's a lot of talent on this line, though. Davis is immature and needs to get better fast, Jonathan Goodwin has played and can play much better than he has been, Mike Iupati is the best of the bunch and we all know that Staley can be better than this. Is it possible they've all hit a ceiling and they are truly bad? Of course it is - anything is in the NFL - but we do need to take a closer look at a couple of the sacks.
For one, there was one change on offense, as Norris was replaced with rookie Bruce Miller at the fullback position. Now, Norris is a much-maligned player and the exact opposite of a fan favorite, but he was decent in pass protection, even if he whiffed on every other block when it came to the running game. Was Miller a step down from Norris? When you take account everything he did, no. But Miller was a factor in pass protection, or the lack thereof.
On at least two of the sacks given up by the 49ers, Miller was directly involved in the protection breaking down. Manny Lawson blew him up early in the third quarter, meeting two other Bengals players at Alex Smith, and Dan Skuta beat him to get to Smith late in the same quarter. One good thing about Miller's play at this point: he was able to identify who he was supposed to pick up correctly, which is a silver lining, considering he's still very new to the position. But he has to be able to block, and when your offensive line isn't playing well, a struggling fullback rookie will only impede things.
To make matters worse, Frank Gore was potentially in on two plays that led to sacks. One of them, the one where Skuta beat Miller, Gore also lost his battle and contributed to Smith's loss. The other one was a play where Gore stayed in to block, then popped out to potentially get a reception, but was yelled at after the play by Snyder, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
Rookie Kendall Hunter also got beat, in the first play we mentioned including Miller. That's also one of the issues with Hunter getting more playing time, his blitz pickup is still very raw, and he's got a pretty small frame. If the offensive line plays like it has, it might be best to keep Gore in for that reason as well. Either way, two of the five plays in which the 49ers gave up sacks were not solely attributed to the offensive line, so that's an issue that needs to be worked on going forward.