Image credit: Andrew Giesemann
'Smith!' screamed the shrewish voice from the telescreen. '6079 Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You're not trying. Lower, please! That's better, comrade. Now stand at ease, the whole squad, and watch me.'
-George Orwell. 1984. Part I, Chapter 3.
Everyone wants an easy first few days of a new job. For San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Nick Mullens, his first two starts were relatively painless. He had to deal with only one hurry in his inaugural start against the hapless Oakland Raiders. Against the New York Giants, he was not sacked, but was hit three times, pressured seven times and was hurried four times. (Per Pro Football Focus)
The smooth transition from practice squad ace to NFL starter ended during Week 12. According to Pro Football Focus, Mullens was sacked twice, hit twice, hurried 11 times and pressured 15 times.
Officially, the 49ers’ offensive line allowed four sacks. Here’s a breakdown of each one, with blame passed as equally as possible.
1st Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 43 (13:09)
The 49ers opened the game with a huge 33-yard run from running back Matt Breida. That play, along with the lone touchdown pass to Dante Pettis, were the offensive highlights of the afternoon.
On the second play of the game, the 49ers lined up in an empty gun formation. Five offensive linemen would block for Mullens, and faced four fearsome Buccaneer defensive linemen.
A second after the snap, the two Buccaneers ran a TEX stunt and nearly collided. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey, right guard Mike Person and center Weston Richburg slid to the right and had the tactless stunt sealed.
However, Tampa Bay defensive end Carl Nassib recovered to loop around his defensive tackle and ended up in the B-gap. Richburg attempted to pick up Nassib, but Nassib proved to be too strong and pushed Richburg back into the pocket.
Once Nassib felt he was close enough to Mullens, he did what any defensive lineman is taught: stick out your arms and swat at anything that looks like a football.
It worked, and Mullens ended up fumbling the ball. However, Mullens recovered, and Nassib earned the first sack of the humid afternoon.
It’s hard to tell if Mullens wanted to throw to Pettis (in yellow), who tripped over the defensive back’s foot. Mullens did have two short outlet routes: running back Matt Breida on an under route and fullback Kyle Juszczyk on an option route.
The 49ers are very familiar with the TEX stunt, as it’s in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s playbook. Further, the Buccaneers didn’t run it well, and the offensive line still allowed Nassib deep into the pocket with easy access to the quarterback.
Blame here goes to Richburg, though Mullens was staring down Pettis and it doesn’t look like he knew Breida was open. Richburg is the anchor of the offensive line and cannot let Nassib penetrate the gap with such ease.
2nd Quarter – 1st and 15 at the SF 26 (2:01)
This jumbled mess of a diagram was another successful sack by the Buccaneers using an inside exchange, which looks the same to a TEX stunt.
Here’s the upside of the play: The 49ers’ offensive line blocked it the best they could. Tomlinson went inside, and then moved laterally to stop the looping nose tackle. It was impressive. McGlinchey worked inside first, and then dropped back to pick up the linebacker coming through the C-gap.
Here’s the downside: The 49ers cannot win the match when two linemen fall down.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy went inside, and Tomlinson chipped him to almost knock McCoy out of the play. Tomlinson then moved with speed force agility to his left to hit defensive end William Gholston.
But McCoy regained his balance, blew through Richburg and knocked him off balance and to the grass. As gravity's heavy clutch took hold of Richburg, he tripped McGlinchey who was moving to try and pick up the linebacker.
Mullens has less than a half second once he reaches the top of his drop, and it does not appear that the deeper routes have made a break. He does have Kittle running an out, but Mullens doesn’t seem to have the time to get rid of the ball.
I’m not the kind of fan to cast blame on one player for the sack. It’s not Tomlinson’s fault his chip block had a domino effect on his teammates, and his movement right and then back left was something I didn’t think I’d ever see from him.
Chalk this one up to the football fates and move on.
2nd Quarter – 2nd and 26 at the SF 15 (1:55)
Mullens tripped over Richburg’s feet after receiving the snap. These nanoseconds are a lovely visual that sum up the 49ers’ luck this season.
Blame here lies with the fans, as we have not sacrificed enough to the deities of our choosing. Crom, standing tall on his mountain, continues to laugh at the bumbling 49ers’ offense.
4th Quarter – 2nd and 19 at the SF 16 (13:34)
Once again, the 49ers used five-man protection against four Buccaneer defensive linemen. I’ve never been great at math, but I can count to five. In any universe, five is a higher number than four. Therefore, the five 49er linemen should win the match-up against four rushing Buccaneers.
But, deception and tricky witchcraft reign mighty in professional football. Rather than run the TEX stunt on the right side, the Buccaneers ran it on the left.
I have to make a few assumptions on this sack:
First, Mullens probably felt he had the right protection called. He had his center and the right guard and tackle slide right. He allowed Tomlinson and Staley to handle the left side. The back released into the play for a pass.
This is a safe protection for Mullens. Staley is a top tier tackle, and Tomlinson has defied my expectations at guard. He’s played a solid season and can make one-on-one blocks when needed. Sending Richburg to the right to help out a rookie and a subpar guard makes sense.
Blame: Unfortunately, Staley got beat inside and gave up the sack. Even the mighty fall from time to time.
TEX Stunts: The 49ers’ Kryptonite
Part of me is shocked that the 49ers offensive line allowed three sacks on three twisting stunts. Yet, the other part of me is numb to the continued mental breakdowns from the position groups. In fact, nothing comes as a surprise with the 2018 49ers.
Only the 49ers could come off a bye week and rack up a whole nine points against the league's worst defense.
The 49ers' offensive line is better than this, and I am hopeful they learn and make weapons from these imperfections.
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