SF 49ers offensive line no longer team’s biggest liability

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) and the San Francisco 49ers take on the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) and the San Francisco 49ers take on the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

After being something of a laughingstock the first five weeks of the season, the SF 49ers offensive line suddenly finds itself a team strength.

Yes, it’s fun to talk about SF 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, running back Jeff Wilson or wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk when recalling the Niners’ brief two-game win streak with impressive upsets over the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots in Weeks 6 and 7, respectively.

Perhaps San Francisco’s unsung hero from those two games, however, should be the offensive line.

The first five weeks weren’t pretty. The SF 49ers O-line was chiefly responsible for giving up 18 sacks during that stretch, including an abysmal five allowed to the Miami Dolphins in that Week 5 blowout loss.

Meanwhile, the upfront blockers were having all kinds of difficulty opening up lanes for running backs Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon. Immediately after that game, Football Outsiders had the Niners O-line ranked 31st in pass protection and dead last in run support.

Quite the proverbial “slap in the face,” considering this unit boasts three former first-round NFL Draft picks, Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson and Mike McGlinchey.

Yet the tables have seemingly turned. At least after the wins over the Patriots and Rams.

San Francisco has surrendered just one sack since, given up in Week 7 against the Patriots. And while that might have been a bit of an ugly moment, the combined efforts from the SF 49ers blockers over the past two weeks have helped push this unit up Football Outsiders’ rankings.

While still not great when encompassing the whole season, the Niners are now ranked 25th in run blocking and 22nd in pass protection, a notable increase over each category’s basement. Looking further at the data, Pro Football Focus had San Francisco’s O-line ranked 24th in pass-blocking efficiency.

Over the last two weeks, the Niners were third in this same category and stand at No. 21 over the whole season.

Pretty safe to say this unit is seeing a turnaround, particularly when players like Tomlinson are getting involved:

Not too shabby from San Francisco’s left guard.

SF 49ers’ O-line turning point was Week 6 vs. LA Rams

Sure, it would be easy to point out the Patriots don’t exactly have a prolific pass rush and are quite vulnerable on defense this season, which opened the context for a one-sack, 197-yard game allowed on the ground.

Go back a week earlier, though, and that’s where the SF 49ers O-line cut its teeth.

Fans watching the Sunday Night Football broadcast will recall the graphic toward the end of the game highlighting Rams perennial All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and his one-tackle, one-quarterback hit, zero-sack game.

Donald alone is imposing enough a player, yet the Niners shut him down. Even more impressive, however, was the fact Los Angeles entered that Week 6 contest tied for the NFL lead in sacks (20), yet the Rams failed to record a single one against an SF 49ers squad that had been prone to giving them up seemingly all season.

Perhaps that was the turning point for this beleaguered unit.

Granted, there are still some question marks, injury concerns and less-than-ideal performances from this group. But the past two weeks have revealed why it’s important to allow time for offensive lines to jell.

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In the case of the Niners, it took five weeks to get to a level of respectability. Hopefully, that stays the case.