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Is offensive line the 49ers biggest weakness? One NFL analyst believes so

Marc Adams
Jun 29, 2024 at 10:14 AM

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When you've appeared in four out of the past five NFC Championship Games, and two of the past five Super Bowls, you don't have too many weaknesses. The San Francisco 49ers have arguably the best roster in football, and will, barring injuries, enter the 2024 season as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

But does this team have a weakness? If so, what is the biggest thing that could keep them from winning it all? For years, it was the secondary. But that's no longer a 49ers weakness.

If you were to ask Warren Sharp, of Sharp Football Analysis, he might say the 49ers offensive line is the weakness of the team. And I would be inclined to agree. Sharp recently ranked the NFL's best offensive lines, and he placed the 49ers at number 16, about the middle of the pack.

"The offensive line is the only 49ers position group to not crack the top 10, finishing at 16," Sharp wrote. "Despite turning 36 over the summer, Trent Williams remains the best left tackle in football, leading all tackles in ESPN's pass block win rate and allowing zero sacks all season."

Williams is at the top of the class among offensive linemen. But the rest of the offensive line leaves something to be desired. Left guard Aaron Banks is a decent starter, and right guard Jon Felciano is serviceable. But right tackle Colton McKivitz and center Jake Brendel aren't quite good enough for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

Sure, Kyle Shanahan's offense is elite. They run the ball well, they throw the ball well. And the offensive line has been one of the reasons why. But in the postseason, where defenses are better, especially defensive lines, the 49ers offensive line has struggled in those moments when the game is on the line and you have to move the ball. Consider this:

Super Bowl LIV

The 49ers had a 10-point lead with about seven minutes left in the game. When Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs took the lead, and the 49ers had to score, the offensive line was unable to block Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, who took over the game.

2021 NFC Championship Game

The 49ers blew another 10-point 4th-quarter lead and needed to score to win the game. This time, the offensive line couldn't block Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Rams were able to hold off the 49ers and San Francisco experienced another heartbreaker.

2022 NFC Championship Game

Although the play that ended QB Brock Purdy's season was due to a missed block by a backup tight end, part of the issue on that play was a missed block by right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Once Purdy went down, the offensive line struggled to protect QB Josh Johnson, who also left the game with an injury.

Super Bowl LVIII

The 49ers had two big 3rd downs, one late in the 4th quarter, and one in overtime, in which Purdy had no time to find his receivers, forcing him to throw the ball away. The one in overtime was a result of a missed assignment by right guard Spencer Burford, who was playing in place of an injured Feliciano. The missed assignment allowed Jones to rush Purdy untouched. The missed opportunities ultimately cost the 49ers a championship.

This offseason, the 49ers continued their tradition of not adding a top offensive lineman, through free agency or the draft. And because of that, the position group remains the team's most glaring weakness. If Williams goes down for any extended period, this unit could struggle, especially in the playoffs when the competition is better.

One thing is for sure—if the 49ers give Purdy a new contract next offseason, they need to have a plan to protect him. Especially with Williams nearing the end of his career.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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