Word of Muth

Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Farewell, 49ers

by Ben Muth

The 49ers lost a heartbreaker on Monday night against the Giants. Nick Mullens didn't turn into a full-blown pumpkin or anything, but he couldn't match his debut performance. I'm sure there are a lot of San Francisco fans that were excited to lose the game for draft position, but it had to be a rough one for an offensive line that has been playing some good football lately.

via Gfycat

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This is the first play of the game and it is literally perfectly blocked. The 49ers could not block this outside zone any better. In fact, this probably should've been a touchdown. Running backs get paid to make one guy miss, but Matt Breida (22) played a good game otherwise, so I don't want to beat him up too much.

I want to start by focusing on the combination block between tight end George Kittle (85) and left tackle Joe Staley (74). Kittle has gotten a lot of love this year as a breakout tight end in fantasy circles, but he might be even better in actual football because he is a really strong blocker. Here he does a great job of working through the edge player's outside shoulder while keeping his own shoulders square. That allows him to turn the defender's shoulders to make Staley's block easier, but still kept him on track to pick up the linebacker. Staley's footwork and helmet target are perfect as well. That's a clinic-worthy combo.

Everyone else on the play is good as well. Left guard Laken Tomlinson (75) easily reached the head-up defensive tackle (B.J. Hill, 95). Weston Richburg (58) covers up his linebacker completely. The wide receiver (Kendrick Bourne, 84) even does a great job on getting to the safety (Landon Collins, 21). Like I said, other than the back not making anybody miss, this was a perfectly executed play.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, the rest of the night wasn't as perfect. I thought the offensive line played pretty damn well, but not flawlessly. They were really good in pass protection but just OK in the running game. It's not like they were awful run blocking -- Breida went over 100 yards -- but it seemed like it could've been more with a little better execution.

via Gfycat

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This is a 4-yard gain on first-and-10, so it was a fine play, but there was more there. The issue is that right tackle Mike McGlinchey (69) gets knocked back into the backfield just enough to screw up both running backs' tracks. McGlinchey has had a very strong rookie year -- I think you could make a case for him to be Offensive Rookie of the Year if the media ever decides offensive linemen are eligible for league-wide awards -- but he wasn't his best on Monday night. I thought Josh Mauro (97) pushed him around a bit on running plays and this play was a good example of that.

Still, like I said, the place San Francisco shined was in pass protection. They didn't give up a sack for the second straight game, and I can personally only recall three real hits. One was on a boot where the Giants brought one more off the edge than San Francisco's scheme could block; one was a roughing the passer; and the other was an actual hurry/hit because Staley got beat. It was a great performance.

via Gfycat

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New York didn't try to blitz the 49ers a lot, but when they did, San Francisco was up to the task. The Giants are using a radar front (everyone standing up and walking around), but the 49ers do a great job of picking it up. This stunt is a bit of mess for New York -- they were so busy trying to disguise it they ran it like shit -- but you still have to pick it up and not give up too much ground doing so. That's exactly what the 49ers did.

The guy I really like is right guard Mike Person (68). He's the only lineman who has two Giants running right at him at the start of the play. He does a great job of staying balanced while he punches at the first guy. A lot of linemen will lunge forward if they miss on a punch like that, but Person is sitting down in his hips and is able to stay back despite coming up with air. That allows him to pick up the second rusher who actually does come into his gap. That's good, disciplined football technique right there to not overextend.

via Gfycat

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When New York just rushed four, they weren't any more effective. Any time you can line up in empty and bring a receiver (or split-out running back in this case) all the way across the field to the other sideline, there's a good chance you're going to have a big play. They're helped by a little slip from one of the defensive linemen (Mario Edwards, 99) but this is real strong pass protection from an empty set. Richburg in particular does a nice job of landing his punch and stoning a looping defensive end (Lorenzo Carter, 59) who has a running head start.

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And finally, here the 49ers are passing off twists on both sides. Passing off a game like this on slide side of the protection (where you outnumber the defense 3-to-2) is easy, but the way the right side handles it is pretty great. Just like I talked about before, I love how Person is able to punch without lunging at guys. He doesn't do a great job of widening the defensive tackle (Kerry Wynn, 72), but he also never leans on him, he stays within his own frame. That way when he has to redirect inside, he can still deliver a strong enough punch to rock the looping defensive end (Carter) off balance. Really nice job of playing in control but still playing with power.

And that will unfortunately do it for the 49ers in this column this year. I'll be sad to see them go because they've been my favorite team to cover in this space this season between their scheme and personnel. But at 2-8 their season is over. The team couldn't match the level of their offensive line, so I'm going to be replacing them with a team to be determined. That team is going to hopefully be in the playoff race down to the wire.

Also, one last bit of housekeeping, this column will be off next week for the holiest of big-man holidays, Thanksgiving. So I will see you back here in a couple of weeks.

Comments

3 comments, Last at 17 Nov 2018, 2:17pm

1 Re: Word of Muth: Farewell, 49ers

by TomC // Nov 16, 2018 - 3:30pm

Great stuff, as always, Ben.

Funny "internet is a small world" moment: I wanted to remind myself what the difference was between a stunt and a twist, so I googled "what's the difference between a twist and a stunt," and the first hit was Mike T.'s "Strategy Minicamp" article on D-line play from 2005(!), the first comment on which is from me (expressing inappropriate levels of excitement that such articles existed).

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2 Re: Word of Muth: Farewell, 49ers

by justanothersteve // Nov 16, 2018 - 5:38pm

"expressing inappropriate levels of excitement that such articles existed"

Perfectly encapsulating my feelings when I first came across Football Outsiders oh so long ago.

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3 Re: Word of Muth: Farewell, 49ers

by mrt1212 // Nov 17, 2018 - 2:17pm

Oh man, I love those moments where you see one of your handles on a comment thread a decade later when you're plumbing the depths of the internet to remember something.

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