Examining the 49ers Offensive Line Failings and How to Improve it Before Garoppolo’s Return
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The San Francisco 49ers have a terrible offensive line. It plays with its collective feet in molasses swamp, lacks any real aggression, and continues to make mental errors in crucial situations.
All of its flaws were on national display in an ugly Week 4 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Left tackle Trent Williams, left guard Laken Tomlinson, right guard Daniel Brunskill, and right tackle Mike McGlinchey allowed 74% of the total sacks, hits, hurries, and pressures.
Statistically speaking, Brunskill was the worst of the group, with Williams coming in a very close second.
No, Gentle Reader, McGlinchey is not the sole lineman to blame for the loss. So, the rage, mockery, and trade speculation should be equally divided among nearly all linemen, not just the right tackle.
The only gold star for the 49ers’ offensive line was center Ben Garland, allowing no sacks, hits, hurries, or pressures.
Here are four individual examples of poor play from the offensive line.
1st Quarter: 3rd and 10 at the SF 12 (13:30)
The 2/3 Scat protection is one of the primary protections used in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. It is slide protection that sends the offensive linemen away from the call, with the tackle protecting the opposite edge. “Scat” tells the line that the back and tight end have a free release into the play, so there is no backfield help.
Each man’s reads and responsibility can alter because the Mike linebacker is shifted too far left or a defensive lineman is in a 2-technique, rather than a 3i-technique.
Philadelphia had a four-man front with linebacker Nathan Gerry following running back Jerick McKinnon’s motion. Gerry bounced back to the middle, making it evident to an empty stadium and the airplanes overhead that he was on a stunt.
Even with Philadelphia sending five men, and a slightly delayed blitz from the nickelback, the 49ers’ offensive line should have had no problem picking up Gerry.
For some reason, Tomlinson continued to stick with defensive tackle Malik Jackson and moved to his right, leaving the strong side B-gap wide open.
Even with slide protection, there was no reason for Tomlinson to move that far to his right. His responsibility ended when Jackson crossed his face and was taking on Garland. Tomlinson’s initial chip of Jackson was fine, but he should have never turned his back on the B-gap.
1st Quarter: 2nd and 15 at the SF 30 (9:16)
In this instance, the left side of the 49ers’ line gets the blame for a sack. Once again, Shanahan called scat protection, so both the back and tight end would be in the pass progression.
At the snap, Philadelphia defensive tackle Javon Hargrave took two steps toward Tomlinson’s left shoulder. It made sense for Tomlinson to give Hargrave that move since he and Williams were flowing toward the Y-receiver.
However, Hargrave shot back to the A-gap, which immediately put Tomlinson in a terrible position. Tomlinson does not have the footwork or speed to counter a rush like that, and he found himself on one leg with no power or punch to shove Hargrave off course.
Williams started well against defensive end Derek Barnett but was overpowered by his opponent. As Williams tried to dig in and halt Barnett, he was violently pushed back into the pocket.
The combination of Hargrave’s A-gap move and Barnett’s rush collapsed the pocket for Mullens. Both Barnett and Hargrave received credit for the sack.
2nd Quarter: 2nd and 7 at the PHI 14 (2:51)
I am sure there are plenty of theories as to why McGlinchey has not played well this season, and whatever one you’re comfortable with believing has minuscule elements of fact.
McGlinchey has not been technically sound, failing to finish blocks or playing too tall. He’s been chewed through by lesser men, getting shoved back into the pocket like a practice squad tackle.
Mullens’ first interception came on a play-action, P15 Jab, if I am not mistaken, as the 49ers were looking to put six points on the board.
The offensive line is to block aggressively on this type of action. Williams and Tomlinson doubled up Hargrave, while Garland and Brunskill both stopped defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
That left McGlinchey on his own against Avery, which should have been an easy chore for McGlinchey.
McGlinchey attacked Avery at the snap, stopping him briefly. For a split second, it looked like Mullens would have a clean pocket to go through his progressions.
Rather than drive Avery to the turf, McGlinchey let up on his block and allowed Avery to fight through to regain his footing. Avery then forced Mullens to make a wild throw, which was intercepted by free safety Rodney McLeod.
4th Quarter: 1st and 10 at the PHI 13 (2:46)
Shanahan benched Mullens late in the game and gave the reins to backup quarterback C.J. Beathard. Technically, the game was still in reach, but it did not look like Beathard would lead two game-winning drives.
Rather than wait for the momentum, Beathard decided to harness it himself. Beathard commanded a fast-tempo drive that had him completing eight of his first nine pass attempts. The no-huddle offense prohibited Philadelphia from making any substitutions.
While the drive ended in a score, Brunskill allowed a near drive-killing sack with 2:46 left on the clock.
Again, the 49ers used 2 scat protection that had Brunskill and McGlinchey flowing toward the Y receiver. And again, Philadelphia was only rushing four men. The 49ers had the numbers to fend off the defenders and give Beathard time in the pocket.
Philadelphia defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway took a path through the B-gap, which should have been an easy block for Brunskill. His initial read step was to his right, so he could have just guided Ridgeway on a looping path to the backfield.
Ridgeway didn’t put a move or a rush or even a spin on Brunskill. No, Ridgeway just politely went around Brunskill, who never got a light tap on Ridgeway. Instead, Brunskill ended up too tall and standing on one foot, which seemed to be a common theme among the 49er offensive linemen on Sunday night.
Brunskill was a serviceable utility lineman last year, but he did not have a brilliant season, nor should he have ever been considered a full-time starter in 2020. Indeed, he makes good blocks from time to time, but even a blind squirrel finds the peanuts purposely left on the sidewalk by the elderly lady from down the block.
There are no personnel switches Shanahan can make to improve his line for Week 5. The 49ers’ front office should have made an effort in the offseason, but instead found it necessary to sign Tom Compton.
The best Shanahan can hope for is these five men to get angry enough at their lackluster start tot 2020 and start doing all the small things right that ultimately leads to victories.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
All images courtesy of NFL.com.
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