Given some of the hits Alex Smith was taking last night, I thought I'd follow up on Matt Barrows' idea and review some of the hits Alex Smith was taking. I went back and reviewed the game on NFL Preseason Live and I have to be honest, the offensive line play did not seem as consistently bad as some people might think. There were mistakes in pass protection that need to be addressed, but it wasn't the sieve some would have you believe.
I focused mostly on the right side of the line. The change at right guard is the biggest on the line, and it will impact Anthony Davis since teamwork is so important along the line. Alex Boone got the preseason off to a strong start last week against the Vikings and was looking to build on it.
This week saw the 49ers go with more designed rollouts compared to last week. Two of these saw Alex Smith roll right and take a hit after letting go of the pass. The first one saw Alex Boone and Anthony Davis both appear to struggle in sealing off their defensive lineman. Connor Barwin blew past Davis and got a big hit on Alex Smith after Smith threw the pass to Michael Crabtree for a four yard gain.
The second specific rollout resulted in a 24-yard gain on a pass to Ted Ginn Jr. In this play, the line shuffled right and Antonio Smith was the one who got the shove on Alex Smith. Boone had initially engaged Smith, but as the line moved right, Boone was blocked in by Anthony Davis, while Antonio Smith was able to move into the clear and line up on Alex Smith. Kendall Hunter had come up to block the defensive end as well and it just created too many bodies in one area. Antonio Smith was able to work his way around and aside from Boone grabbing Smith and risking a holding call, I'm not sure there was much he could do. I wonder if that is more of a communication issue.
One thing I noticed in reviewing the game was several instances where a hole on the right side opened up a lane for a pass rusher. One such example was the second sack of Alex Smith. On the snap, Alex Boone slide to his left to pick up a defensive tackle, while Kendall Hunter came up into the space to pick up Brian Cushing. Although Hunter had a generally strong game, this was one particular play where he did not get a win. He got on Cushing, but Cushing was quick to get around Hunter's left. This forced Hunter to move in that direction.
That is particularly pertinent because with Anthony Davis kicking to his right, that opened a hole. Alex Smith stepped forward into that hole to get away from Cushing. Unfortunately he ran into Tim Jamison. Jamison had initially started out at defensive tackle over Mike Iupati. Jamison stood up and paused at the snap, and then swung around into that right hole where he more or less ran right into Alex Smith. Boone slide to his left and appeared to be in a zone-blocking scheme (h/t to @yougomango) but didn't pick up Jamison. Boone might have slide a little too far over on his initial move because he simply could not get back to get a body on Jamison.
Let's be clear about one thing. None of these results are good by any stretch of the imagination. These are bad things. At the same time, these are teaching moments, particularly for Alex Boone. He struggled in that one particular instance with his zone read and it cost the 49ers a sack. On the same play, Kendall Hunter got overwhelmed by Brian Cushing on the blitz pick-up, but he had other plays where he was quite strong in picking up blitzers. We'd like to see more consistency, but this is not a simple case of Hunter being too small to handle blitzers.
Next week when the 49ers head to Denver to face the Broncos, it will be interesting to see if the Broncos bring the kitchen sink on the blitzes. The Texans brought some heat and the 49ers offensive line struggled in communicating who needed to be doing what early on.
It is worth noting that the line did settle down in the second quarter. The first string line was in for the entire first half, which included a full Colin Kaepernick drive. On that CK drive, I thought the line looked quite impressive. Had Moss caught the deep pass from Kaepernick, that likely ends up as a touchdown drive. Of course, Kaepernick also seemed to be going with more of a first read throw, which almost resulted in an interception when a safety jumped the play. Nonetheless, it was a strong showing from the line on that drive.