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The 49ers offensive line deserves more credit

This unit has paved the way for the running backs the past few games

NFL: JAN 11 NFC Divisional Playoff - Vikings at 49ers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers got Jaquiski Tartt, Dee Ford, and Kwon Alexander back from injury for the playoffs, and we’ve seen the defense go to the level they played at early in the season. The defense isn’t the only part of the team that has stepped it up. The Niners offensive line and running game struggled for around a month this season. Once upon a time, San Francisco struggled to run the ball and had to throw it to move the ball, but don’t tell the media that the team averaged 3.4 yards per carry during a three-game stretch and went 3-1 with an overtime loss. Look at the difference in rushing splits from the offense in the first half compared to the second half:

Wk 1-10: -7.3% DVOA (19), 4.7 yd/carry

Wk 11-20: +21.5% DVOA (2), 5.4 yd/carry

Joe Staley went down early in the year and had to miss time, as did Mike McGlinchey. Kyle Shanahan had to make a few adjustments to his running game. The Niners switched to more gap/power schemes, which wasn’t how this team was built. General manager John Lynch said the number one trait the team looks for at running back is speed. Running backs coach Bobby Turner looks for one-cut runners that are decisive. Those are perfect for Shanahan’s wide-zone scheme. Health hurt San Francisco’s execution.

Staley returned to form

Joe Staley has played better than most have given him credit for this season. Staley would give up an early sack, or get beaten on a speed rush, and you’d see fans riot saying Staley should be benched. That was a thing during the regular season. Staley has given up two sacks, and quarterback hits in nine games, but it’s his run blocking as of late that has really helped this San Francisco offense get back on track. Go back and watch all of Raheem Mostert’s touchdowns in the NFC Championship. Then watch Staley. He was moving bodies all game Sunday:

Staley isn’t throwing defenders to the ground on every play, but against Green Bay, and the last four games in general, the Niners left tackle has been outstanding.

On the same page

The 49ers are the sum of their parts. One individual won’t wow you on a down-to-down basis with these highlight pancake blocks. What is impressive about the unit is how they are all on the same page, and we don’t see mistakes. Whether in the running game or the passing game.

Since Week 14, Ben Garland hasn’t allowed Garoppolo to be touched. That may be an even bigger story than Staley’s recent dominance, considering the importance of the center position in Shanahan’s offense. Garland has been a superb run blocker for the past three games as well. I felt that Laken Tomlinson played with a mean streak that we haven’t seen from him all season during the NFC Championship. That’s been the theme: bully ball. The physicality has overwhelmed the Niners past three opponents, and that won’t stop against the Chiefs.

The running backs have been great at the second level in avoiding tackles and not going down on first contact, but the offensive line has done a great job at making sure there are running lanes clear running lanes. The offensive line came together at a perfect time, and the 49ers offense is reaping the benefits.