The Niners have had a brutal run of injuries along their offensive line this year, starting with the loss of swing tackle Shon Coleman for the year in training camp. That became a bigger problem than it first appeared when both starting tackles missed several games of their own.
Now Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey look set to be back and healthy for Sunday’s showdown against the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Brunskill has emerged as an outstanding swing tackle behind them. And Baltimore is the team facing big problems on their OL.
You may have heard that the Ravens starting center Matt Skura injured his knee during Baltimore’s blowout win over the sorry LA Rams, and is out for the season.
UDFA rookie center Patrick Mekari — a converted guard — replaced Skura for the last 61 snaps of that game, and gave up just two quarterback hurries to play opposite Aaron Donald. Not bad, for now.
But he only had 43 snaps in his pro career before Skura got hurt, spread across five games, mostly in garbage time. This week, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has had time to watch tape on Mekari and design ways to exploit his weaknesses.
And that is just the beginning of Baltimore’s problems.
Starting LG Bradley Bozeman did not practice Wednesday due to an ankle injury. He practiced but was limited on Thursday. So he’s likely to play, but even being less than 100% would add to the pressure on Mekari, his neighbor on the right.
Then Thursday, starting right tackle Orlando Brown, Jr. did not practice due to an unspecified illness. No word on his game availability, but this is getting pretty late in the week to miss a practice and not have it affect your ability to play. [See update below]
Kyle’s note: Brown returned to practice on Friday.
All of this comes as the Ravens OL sets up against San Francisco’s fearsome defensive line, which has 44 sacks already this year. The Pittsburgh Steelers demonstrated earlier this year that clogging up the middle is a good way to slow down Baltimore’s dominating offense.
Sacks would be great, but shutting down the Raven’s league-best running game would be even better. And that may be less difficult than it sounds.
Baltimore leads the NFL in rushing yards by a mile, at 210.5 yards per game. (Second place San Francisco generates 145.6 YPG.) But 38% of those (80 YPG) is by QB Lamar Jackson, often without the help of the OL.
With nose tackle DJ Jones back healthy, and 3/5ths of the Ravens OL off their peak, the 49ers should be able to gum up the interior, put pressure on Jackson without blitzing, and let their league-leading secondary generate some coverage sacks.
UPDATE: As of Friday 11/29 at 1:55pm PST, the Ravens report that tackle Orlando Brown and guard Bradley Bozeman were full participants in practice. Bozeman is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game (meaning very likely to play) and there is no comment on Brown’s playing status at all, which means he will play.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that either will be 100%. Skura remains out for the season in the Injured Reserve List.