The 49ers’ Offensive Line and the Lone Sack


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Nothing pleases me more than quality offensive line play. I have been and am the sole Hub writer who is overly obsessed and highly critical with run blocking and pass protection.

So, when the 2020 San Francisco 49ers opened the season with five straight games of atrocious blocking, you could say it haunted me day and night.

Whenever the eye falls upon the offensive line, say during the game or the next day on social media, my blood runs cold. And game after game, I gradually made up my mind to overanalyze every nuance and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Coming into Week 6, the 49ers offensive line allowed 18 sacks through five games, putting them on pace for 58 by the end of the season. Over the past two games, the offensive line has allowed a single sack, a mental error committed by right tackle Mike McGlinchey.

During the Week 6 rout of the New England Patriots, the 49ers’ front five allowed two hurries and three pressures. They did not allow a single hit on Garoppolo, minus the lone sack.

Left guard Laken Tomlinson also notched his best overall offensive grade from Pro Football Focus on Sunday, earning a 91.1 for his efforts. He even landed on the Week 7 PFF Team of the Week.

I applaud Tomlinson and his four lineman colleagues for their strong play on Sunday. These men have made it their mission to fasten the shutters and fend off any blitz or line stunt thrown at them.

Hearken! and observe how healthily -- how calmly I can tell you the whole story of the lone sack.

1st Quarter - 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (5:25)

Once the broadcast showed Patriots’ defensive tackle Lawrence Guy screaming in off the right edge, I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror.

The 49er Faithful had come to know that sound well. Previously, when the 49ers would begin moving the ball, a drive would stall when McGlinchey or another lineman would get overpowered or overwhelmed.

On the previous play, tight end George Kittle made a fantastic sideline catch that gained 14-yards and bailed the 49ers out of a slightly dire third-and-11 situation. The offense had many of these moments on Sunday – when it was third down, and it looked as if the drive was about to stall but would find the needed yardage to keep moving.

The 49ers broke the huddle and aligned in a “bunch right” formation, with Kittle as the Z receiver and tight end Ross Dwelley as the Y.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo motioned for Kittle to cross the formation and line up on the outside hip of left tackle Trent Williams. As Kittle paused, Patriots’ middle linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley took three steps to the outside shoulder of right guard Daniel Brunskill and timed his stunt perfectly to the B-gap.

The 49ers were running a play-action, using P17 Stutter Solid protection. This protection tells the line to sell a run play, in this case, “stutter,” using down blocks and the offside guard pulling left toward the end man on the line of scrimmage.

In “stutter,” the entire offensive line is blocking down. So, Tomlinson’s responsibility was defensive tackle Nick Thurman, and center Hroniss Grasu’s was blocking Bentley alone. That would have allowed McGlinchey to pick up Guy, as the protection is drawn up, and Dwelley there to help if needed.

Now, McGlinchey has no business moving to his left to protect the B-gap, even with Brunskill headed in the other direction. Bentley was Grasu’s responsibility, and it looked like he could handle Bentley without issue.

Bentley’s stunt happened quickly, so I doubt there was time for a line audible. So, McGlinchey made an error to try and help out his new center, but the C-gap was open -- wide, wide open --and Dwelley was blocking nobody. I grew furious as I gazed upon it.

It was clear Dwelley thought McGlinchey was going to block down because Dwelley widened to stalk Patriots defensive end John Simon. McGlinchey figured out his error when he turned to his right and saw Guy going untouched through the C-gap.

At this point in the broadcast, I foamed -- I raved -- I swore! But I thought the game film would prove more to the sack than just blaming one man.

I tried to comfort myself with these suppositions, but found it all in vain. McGlinchey’s mental error was the lone mistake for the offensive line, and I have come to realize that even the best linemen will have these breakdowns from time to time.

Upon learning these things, I am hopeful you are satisfied, and my manner has been convincing.

I will be singularly at ease.

All images courtesy of NFL.com.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.



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