We'll continue our grades of the San Francisco 49ers' various positions today with a look at the performance of the offensive line. As a whole unit, they struggled earlier on in the season, but got stronger as the season went on. The thing about the 49ers' offensive line is that, where they struggled in one aspect (pass protection), they excelled in the other.
In other words, when the offensive line started to toughen up against pass rushers later on in the season, they stopped blocking for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. But you take the bad with the good, and the 49ers relied on Alex Smith and the passing game late in the season, and they came just short of their ultimate goal. Let's get on with the grades.
Joe Staley started off the season in much the same way as he finished the last: solid, but with plenty of mistakes. Staley was prone to making all manner of mistakes at the start of the 2011 campaign, from false starts to missed assignments. It was very frustrating for the team and its fans, considering Staley's contract and the fact that he's a seasoned veteran at this point. He makes immature mistakes, and that's the bad that comes with the good. Fortunately, Staley improved an awful lot as the season went along, becoming a rock at the left tackle spot, something that is often overlooked. It's true that, when he went down with an injury, that his replacement played well, but Staley isn't on thin ice at this point. Playing well down the stretch earns him a B+.
Mike Iupati actually had a bad game or two, for what seems like the first time in his career. That being said, Iupati played out of his mind more often than naught. It's hard to explain how Staley earned a Pro Berth in lieu of Iupati, but either way, Iupati most certainly deserved a berth. He is a mauler in the run game and, though he made the occasional mental error, he was absolutely solid in pass protection. The only time he faltered was when, hilariously, the right side of the line suffered injuries. A
Jonathan Goodwin came in and struggled early on. In fact, Goodwin had some very bad games over the first couple weeks, and then suddenly he was a rock. Goodwin played at a very high level from about week four on, and there's not much else to say about him. It's clear he doesn't have a ton of time left to play, but for now, his best moments were pretty darn good. Still, he wasn't as consistent as many expected, given that he's a former Pro Bowler. B-
Adam Snyder did just as I always thought he would, and played very well at right guard. He did have issues with some of the power guys and dealing with Anthony Davis messing up to his right, but he played hard and was a force in the run game. Snyder made a lot of athletic plays, too, and was great in the middle double-teaming guys with Goodwin. In short, Snyder should definitely be the guy going forward at right guard unless the 49ers are presented with someone can't-miss. A-
Anthony Davis was beat soundly by certain kinds of rushers. The monster edge rushers like Jason Babin absolutely abused him from start to finish. That was Davis' biggest problem in both of his seasons thus far: once he got beat, it spiraled out of control and he continued to get beat. He's not a bad player by any means and he's still ridiculously young, but the guy has to get more consistent and he needs to not fall behind so much. He can go a game without relenting one bit and then get beat 15 different times the next week. Consistency is the problem. C
Alex Boone is someone that is hard to evaluate, given the fact that he's so impressive looking in practice and as a physical specimen overall, but he hasn't seen the field much. When he did see the field, he played well, but he failed to do anything spectacular with his playing time, something that is disappointing given the lacking play from Davis. Some 49ers fans hoped that Boone would have worked his way into the lineup, however improbable that would have been. B
Chilo Rachal played well. He came in for relief a couple of times and didn't screw up. That's as nice as we're going to get. He's not great in pass protection, but he's not a bad blocker. He didn't inspire much confidence, either way. C