Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


49ers’ Pass Protection Sole Silver Lining in Early Season Struggles

Anwar Jamison
Sep 27, 2016 at 9:04 AM



We have to find something positive to point to, don't we? Well, maybe we don't have to, but let's try anyway. That's not an easy task at all considering the steep decline in production of the 49ers in all facets of the game in the past two games. Sunday's 37-18 loss in Seattle was the exclamation point. If you wanted to place blame on the defense for surrendering a ton of early points and putting the offense behind the 8-ball, or the offense for not being able to put together any sustained drives, then you could.

Apparently the special teams didn't want to be left out. Phil Dawson's 53-yard field goal attempt midway through the second quarter not only missed, but looked like he was aiming for another dimension. Then, in the third quarter, with a chance to pin the Seahawks deep in their own territory, they allowed Tyler Lockett to return Pinion's punt 62 yards to the Niners' 26-yard line. At that point, it was official, the team had officially been beaten up in all three aspects of the game.

Rest easy though ladies and gentleman, there is one stat, a really important stat, that the 49ers actually lead the league in up to this point. Actually, they're tied for the lead, but let's not put a damper on the moment. The 49ers have only allowed two sacks, which is tied for best in the NFL. That should not be taken lightly.

Last season, the 49ers' offensive line was a sieve, allowing any defender who wanted a free run at the quarterback to pretty much take it. A retirement, a key free agent loss, and a key injury made that unit unrecognizable from the 2014 version.

Of all of the optimistic predictions tossed around this preseason, the offensive line seemed to be the sure thing of the bunch, and they've held up their end of the bargain. Of the two sacks that were allowed, one was given up by backup guard Marcus Martin while briefly replacing Andrew Tiller in the week 2 matchup with the Carolina Panthers. Realistically, Martin has demonstrated enough subpar play that he is never ever going to see the field, except in cases of an injury. So, the fact that the starting 5 offensive lineman have only given up one sack in three games is a phenomenal accomplishment.

Consider the three front sevens that the 49ers have faced in the first three weeks: The St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, and Seattle Seahawks. It is not hyperbole to suggest that those are three of the top five front sevens in the National Football League. It's also even more impressive considering that both sacks came in week 2 against the Carolina Panthers, which means that the team didn't allow one sack against the Rams and Seahawks combined. That is impressive.

It is a fair question to ask how much of this success is due to Blaine Gabbert and his tendency to get rid of the ball quickly. That's obviously a factor, but you can't avoid sacks by merely getting rid of the ball quickly. Gabbert was sacked 25 times in his 8 starts during the 2015 season, including a franchise record 9 times against the Cleveland Browns alone, so even if you do attempt to get the ball out of your hands as quickly as possible, as Gabbert does, the line still has to provide enough protection for you to do that. They are doing an excellent job of that this year.

Despite the success in pass protection, the line hasn't been able to do the same job in the run game opening up holes for running backs Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn. However, conventional wisdom tells us that if a team has not hit any passes down the field, and rarely attempts them, the defense will play closer to the line of scrimmage, put more men in the box, and shut the running game completely down. To put it simply, due to the ineffectiveness of the passing game, the lineman have not been in a fair fight in the running game: they've been getting jumped.

To truly reap the benefits of this improved pass protection, the 49ers' will have to start seeing explosive plays in the passing game, or at least the threat of them. Gabbert's inability to make these plays have started the calls for his benching from media members, fans, and most everyone except Chip Kelly and the 49ers organization.

There are many who argue that Colin Kaepernick will not perform any better if given the opportunity. However, there is no evidence that this is the case. People love to wax poetic about the Kaepernick that exploded on the scene and took the league by storm and wonder if he'll ever come back. Rarely in that discussion do people point out the fact that Kaepernick, at that time, was playing behind what was generally recognized as the best offensive line in the NFL.

Many seem to forget some of the amazing throws that Kaepernick consistently made when he had time to throw. It was those type of throws, not just his running ability, that led ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski to proclaim," I truly believe Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever." Turn on the replay of the Super Bowl XLVII loss to the Ravens and listen to CBS analyst Phil Simms rave about pass after pass made by Kaepernick before finally concluding "he would be a great quarterback even if he couldn't run." People laugh at those statements in hindsight, but that's something that never would have been uttered about a quarterback who couldn't flat out throw the ball.

Many people forget that at the beginning of the 2014 season, with a terrible offensive line in front of him, people were openly wondering if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was washed up, and even suggested that he should retired at the end of that season. This was a real conversation. But by the end of that season, he had put another ring on his finger. Yes, even one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time can look bad behind a poor offensive line.

With a putrid offensive line, and completely overmatched offensive coaching staff, it was not fair to judge either Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick based on their 2015 performance. However, we've now seen Gabbert for three games with a fully capable offensive coaching staff, and an offensive line that is providing some of the best pass protection in the league, and the results are disheartening to say the least. It's not only the statistics: that can happen against good defenses. It's more so the fact that when he does miss, it's often with a level of inaccuracy we haven't seen from any quarterback besides maybe Tim Tebow, and we see where that got him. It's simply illogical to write off Kaepernick's potential to come in and play significantly better behind this offensive line until we've seen it happen. Nobody knows what that will look like until we see it.

Whether it's Gabbert, Kaepernick or ultimately even Christian Ponder going forward, the 49ers must find a way to capitalize on this stellar pass protection that the offensive line is providing. As everyone who watches the 49ers knows, it can be here today and gone tomorrow.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


1 Comment

  • BigAl
    That's an excellent article, and exactly what I have been thinking. I'm going to submit my own soon...I will say on 3rd downs I'm not used to seeing a 49er QB actually have time to throw, and like you said it is disheartening to see the throws missed so badly. Gabberts shook, and we all know there's no such thing as 'halfway crooks'
    Sep 28, 2016 at 10:46 AM
    1

Facebook Comments



More San Francisco 49ers News



Fred Warner says Dee Ford looks great, expects pass rusher to give 49ers a 'huge advantage' in 2021

By David Bonilla
14 hrs ago

The San Francisco 49ers will get a boost from the return of pass rusher Nick Bosa this season. The third-year player missed most of last season after suffering a torn ACL during Week 2. The 49ers' pass rush may get another boost in 2021 with the potential return of veteran Dee Ford. According to Fred Warner, it sounds like things are trending in that direction. The star linebacker joined KNBR this morning and was asked for an update on Ford. "Yeah, Dee, he's great," Warner responded. "He looks great. He's back. I've seen him plenty, and he's been working his tail off. I know the type of player that he is, and the fact that he's back healthy is going to give us a huge advantage, so I'm really excited about seeing him back." Ford appeared in just one



CBS Sports lists 49ers among NFL's most overrated teams ahead of 2021 season

By David Bonilla
Jul 12, 2021

Some fans seem to relish the idea of their favorite team entering a season as an underdog. If you are one of those fans and cheer for the San Francisco 49ers, you will love Tyler Sullivan's recent feature for CBS Sports. The writer named the Bay Area squad in his list of the NFL's most overrated teams ahead of the 2021 season. Yes, San Francisco earned just six wins last season. However, as almost anyone will tell you while defending the team, the roster endured a historic number of injuries in a bizarre 2020. In fact,



PFF on 49ers: 3 players to build around, power rankings, 2021 season odds

By David Bonilla
Jul 13, 2021

Pro Football Focus published several articles with some telling information on the analytics site's perception of the San Francisco 49ers in 2021. Let's quickly run through each of the topics. Three Players to Build Around Analyst Ben Linsey named three players to build around for each NFL team as it prepares for the 2021 season. They were tight end George Kittle, rookie quarterback Trey Lance, and third-year pass rusher Nick Bosa for the Niners. Omitted from the list is linebacker Fred Warner. Linsey admits that was a difficult choice. The decision came down to Bosa versus Warner, and the analyst couldn't ignore the



No Huddle Podcast: Expectations for 49ers heading into 2021 season, mailbag

By Site Staff
Jul 15, 2021

It's been a while but Al and Zain are back to talk: Kyle Shanahan's comments on Matthew Stafford The timelines for Jimmy Garoppolo and his eventual replacement, Trey Lance Expectations for the San Francisco 49ers heading into the 2021 season and beyond Richard Sherman's arrest and the shocking 911 call Answering mailbag questions from fans Golf? You can listen to the latest "No Huddle Podcast" episode above, from our


Featured

More by Anwar Jamison

More Articles

Share 49ersWebzone