We’re ten weeks through the NFL season, so we have enough data to gauge how a player is performing or should know who he is by now. The San Francisco 49ers entered this season starting a first-time right tackle, right and left guards entering their second seasons as starters, a journeyman center, and a Hall of Fame left tackle.
But the Hall of Famer has missed time, and the Niners were forced to start a different combination this past Sunday despite Trent Williams playing through an injury as Aaron Banks was out with a turf toe injury.
Let’s take a look at the state of the 49ers offensive line.
Trent Williams looked closer to 60 percent than 80 percent against Jacksonville
Williams came out of Sunday without any setbacks. On Monday, head coach Kyle Shanahan said, “Trent, by no means, wasn’t close to 100 percent. I thought it was pretty courageous just to be able to battle throughout that game.”
I could not agree more. It was evident that Williams was a shell of himself. In pass protection, he could hardly put any weight on his right ankle. For the first time in a long time, Williams looked mortal.
He had a holding call, gave up a couple of pressures, and even allowed a QB hit. It was evident that Williams couldn’t move backward. But boy, did he still have enough in the tank to get out in space:
Trent Williams looked closer to 60% than 80%. He was noticeably favoring his ankle and struggled moving backward. Shanahan called him "courageous."— KP (@KP_Show) November 14, 2023
But watch Williams out in space. Ignore the DB retreating and watch Trent's acceleration once he hits the 30. Unicorn athlete pic.twitter.com/LeAaSHs1Ed
There were three or four plays when the 49ers asked Williams to pull, and they all looked like the clip from above. He had the Jaguars defensive back running for his life on each occasion.
Ideally, Williams gradually gets healthier as the season goes along. But that’s going to be a challenge considering the 49ers play Sunday, then again on Thursday in a must-win game for the NFC West.
Effective along the interior
Spencer Burford missed one block out of 57 snaps. He wasn’t penalized, nor did he allow any pressure on the quarterback. There was a play when Burford was a tick late to pick up a stunt and pass it off to the right tackle, but think about that. We’re arguing whether the second-year guard messed up on one or two plays.
You could copy and paste the same from above for Brendel. I’d say he was almost as impressive as Williams was when asked to go block defenders out in space or at the third level with all of the reverses and misdirection the 49ers run.
One thing that was on display against the Jaguars was the athleticism of the 49ers offensive line. They can all move and hit running targets, which isn’t easy to do when you’re 300 pounds and trying to hit something weighing 100 fewer pounds than you.
Shanahan said the team was planning on playing Feliciano before Banks’ injury:
“It had been discussed. Nothing against Spencer, but I wanted to make sure that Jon knew that we were aware of how well we thought he had been doing. So that was something I just had mentioned to him and was planning on doing it. Hadn’t thought how we would do it yet. I just thought he had earned to be out there a little bit and unfortunately Aaron got hurt, but we never looked into anymore after that because we knew he was going to be up this week and this week going forward.”
Shanahan has no problem telling us if a player didn’t perform well. But he didn’t feel that away about his guards: “I thought they played real well, did some real good things in the run game and the pass game. So, I was very happy with them.”
Feliciano was climbing to the second level on some plays, and serving pancakes on others:
Feliciano didn’t miss any blocks and had a clean slate in pass protection. His experience should pay dividends down the stretch. He was spectacular Sunday.
Ruh roh at right tackle
Let’s put this into perspective. Williams, on one leg, missed four blocks and had a holding penalty. McKivitz, fully healthy, missed the same number of blocks. I’d argue Colton’s were more egregious, and he had one whiff that looked like a replay of the NFC Championship when Brock Purdy was injured.
McKivitz was rolled up on during the game, and will be day-to-day with an ankle injury. His mistakes all led to Purdy getting hit or having to scramble and eventually getting sacked. Essentially, mistakes that simply can’t happen.
McKivitz flat out didn’t acknowledge the defensive end on one play. On two others, he was late to recognize a stunt. What’s most concerning is this isn’t anything new. Even in a game like Sunday’s, the 49ers scored 34 points, so it doesn’t seem as though anything could go bad in a blowout victory.
But the signs have been there, and McKivitz has yet to improve in pass protection. Jacksonville went out of their way to target him, and had success.
On the season, McKivitz has a blown block percentage of 3.0, per Sports Info Solutions. For context, the closest lineman to him is Jake Brendel at 2.3 percent. There’s a sizable gap between McKivitz and everybody else and there has been all season.
In the video below, I highlighted the issues McKivitz had in pass protection, but also went over plenty of good from the offensive line.
To me, the 49ers should consider a change at right tackle. Jaylon Moore has the athleticism and has performed well on limited appearances, while Matt Pryor has the advantage in experience. I like Moore’s upside, and would roll with him. But a chance feels necessary because there’s no progress from McKivitz.