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The 49ers Escape Cincinnati: O-Line in Question

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On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers were able to leave Cincinnati with their second win of the 2011 season, putting them on top of the NFC West at 2-1. There are both a lot of negatives and positives to take away from the week three match; if you watched the game, needless to say, it wasn't pretty.

This is the third straight performance by the Niners offensive line that has left a bad taste in my mouth. In terms of pass protection, it was amatuer hour as they allowed 5 sacks for a loss of 25 yards against the Bengals defense. And the ground attack is yet to show itself this season, which is alarming because the 49ers have not been able to rely on their passing game to win games going on 10 years now.

It's difficult to pinpoint the reason the offensive line hasn't been performing because it seems like every play, it's something different. Whether it's false starts, missed assignments, holding penalties, miscommunication or just getting beat, the unit as a whole has underperformed this season.

It's easy to point fingers at Alex Smith and say he'll never be good enough or that Frank Gore has lost a step, but neither of those men can effectively do their jobs with that level of offensive line play. And what's most disappointing is that everyone is in question, from Jonathan Goodwin to Joe Staley to Anthony Davis.

The reason for this could be a combination of things: lack of chemistry, adjusting to a new philosophy, few repetitions in the new scheme, the lockout and/or the general growing pains that come with a total organizational makeover. Whatever the case, the 49ers defense has been asked to continually bail out the offense so far this season and it can't go on for another 13+ games.

I understand this article may come off as if San Francisco lost but we have to hold them to a higher standard. I'm thrilled that we escaped with a win before the Niners visit Lincoln Financial Field to face the Eagles, but ugly wins against mediocre teams will translate into devastating losses to good teams. We need to get better and it starts with the offensive line; if we improve there, we improve the passing game and running game, and therefore the entire offense.

For as long as this continues, we will constantly be playing these field-position games that could be lost at any time. Going forward, we need to become a team that is able to get a sizable lead and defend it. But instead, San Francisco is always playing on thin ice.

The offensive line is so much a part of the overall success of the team because it is such a vital component to the offense. San Francisco's inability to generate any kind of push this season could be one of the leagues biggest not-talked-about mysteries in the NFL right now. The talent is there and San Francisco has a competent coaching staff in place to extract it from the players.

It's understandable if before this unit can take that leap forward, that they will need to take a step back and slow things down first. What I mean by this is, they need to fully adjust and come to grips with the new scheme blocking that's been installed. They need to communicate and trust each other, while establishing a timing and rhythm.

Have you ever seen when an experienced offensive line is operating in perfect synchronicity -- passing defenders off to each other and completely controlling the line of scrimmage? It's "football nirvana" as Steve Young would call it. The player talent, mental awareness and chemistry is all in place and the offense works fluidly.

I believe the core issues that San Francisco is facing right now with that unit can only be overcome by time and experience. I know it's the same personnel for the most part, with the exception of Goodwin replacing David Baas, but the new system basically put them back at the starting line. They need to start fresh before they can really become comfortable and start gelling as a single immovable force.

And I do believe someday the 49ers offensive line group will get there but for right now, it's going to be a lot of hard fought wins where we'll be depending on contributions from other areas. In the meantime, I hope the coaches are at least simplifying things on a week-to-week basis so the fans don't suffer through the growing pains as well.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @DeSimone80