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The 49ers offensive line has become underrated

The 49ers offensive line has improved over the last few weeks.

San Francisco 49ers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 42-19 in Week 13, leading to their fourth consecutive victory as they remained undefeated following their bye week.

After dropping 17 points in three straight losses prior to the bye week, the 49ers have averaged 33.5 points in their last four games, getting back to the scoring levels of their early-season success, and have won those contests by an average of 21.25 points.

How has the 49ers offense gotten back to their elite levels of offensive execution?

It starts with quarterback Brock Purdy and the 49ers’ playmakers, who have executed at a high level, leading to a number of explosive plays, as Purdy has thrown for 11 touchdowns and one interception, while Christian McCaffrey has rushed for three touchdowns during the stretch.

But, the more underrated factor behind the offense’s success has been an improvement in offensive line play, as the 49ers’ group has been fairly good when it comes to pass protection and run-blocking.

On the ground, the 49ers have averaged 143.5 rushing yards per contest in their last four games. What’s been even more impressive is how many of those yards has been before contact, indicating how well the 49ers have blocked those certain plays.

During the stretch, Christian McCaffrey has rushed for 4.3, 2.7, 4.7, and 3.0 yards before contact per rush, which has inflated those rushing numbers, as McCaffrey was able to gain over 1.5 yards after contact per rush on average.

The 4.3 and 4.7 marks were San Francisco’s best of the season, and the resurrection of the run game has sparked the offense significantly over the past few weeks, as it was lacking during the three losses prior to the bye week.

Through the air, Brock Purdy has been sacked nine times in the last four games.

However, only four of those were attributed to the offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus, and the front five have allowed under 12 pressures a contest over the winning streak.

Now, 47 percent of those pressures were attributed to the right side of the offensive line, which has been the biggest issue this season, but the 49ers have still overcome those flaws to put together good performances week-after-week, which has allowed for Brock Purdy to be more comfortable in the pocket.

The clearest way to see that change in comfortability is Purdy’s time to throw, which sat at 2.55 seconds per throw in the games prior to the bye week.

After the bye week? Purdy’s time to throw has skyrocketed, as it has been 3.07, 3.10, 3.41, and 2.85 seconds over the past four weeks, respectively.

Now, Purdy has looked to extend plays, increasing his time to throw, but he’s also had more time in the pocket as a benefit of better offensive line play, providing him more opportunity to make the right read.

When the 49ers offense is clicking on all cylinders, we’ve seen how dangerous the result can be. The scariest part? It seems that the 49ers offense haven’t even reached their full potential, yet they’ve been able to consistently put up 30 points on the board, while their defense has limited opponents to just 12.25 points a contest since the bye week.

However, it seems that a part of that potential could be unfolding, as right guard Spencer Burford recovered from his injury to play against the Eagles, and was able to hold his ground against one of the league’s best defensive lines.

“He had a real good week of practice,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said about his second-year guard. “We wanted to see how healthy he was during the week, and once we put all three of those days together we felt real good about his tape. We weren’t by any means going in and planning to keep Jon out. We still planned on him playing some. We were just going to take it series by series. Spencer held his own, did a good job. We didn’t see any setbacks from his knee injury from the previous weeks so we just left it that way and thought he had a good game.”

If the 49ers can get more consistent play from Burford, it would elevate the floor of their already-improving offensive line, while also continuing his development as the team’s right guard of the future.

But, it’s important to note how the 49ers offensive line has played as of late, which has been a factor in their recent success, and they deserve some recognition for their play.