Often overlooked and regularly scrutinized, there might not be a more thankless job in the world of football than that of an offensive lineman. Play well, and there’s not much in the way of praise. Make a mistake or two over the course of a 60-minute game, and you’re subjected to front page condemnation that erases the 95% of snaps you played at a high level.
It’s a tough reality to exist in, but the warriors who man the trenches week after week don’t have time to be concerned with looking for empathy. They are far too busy fighting to stave off the gargantuan human beings lined up on the other side of the line of scrimmage, which the 49ers have collectively done at an elite rate over the last two seasons.
In the year the 49ers went to the Super Bowl in 2019, the offensive line was fantastic in the run game, while leaving plenty to be desired on the pass blocking side of things. Pro Football Focus graded them as being the 4th best run blocking unit in the league, while their pass protection graded out at 19th.
This trend continued even during an injury riddled season in 2020, with the group registering the 2nd best run blocking grade in the NFL, while the pass blocking grade regressed to 24th.
However, in 2021, things changed in a massive way. During that season, the 49ers jumped all the way into the top 10 in pass blocking grade, finishing the year as the 8th ranked unit in the league. All while maintaining yet another year as the second highest graded run blocking team in the NFL.
In 2022, they improved even further with their pass blocking efficiency, grading out as the 5th best unit in the league, the first time they registered a top five pass blocking grade during the Kyle Shanahan era.
The raw numbers support that positive trend in grading as well. In 2020, the 49ers offensive line allowed 160 pressures in the 16 games they played that season. In 2022, the 49ers offensive line only allowed 147 total pressures, despite playing in four more games than they had in 2020.
So, what exactly sparked this resurgence in pass protection? What changed in 2021 that had not been a part of the equation before that season? Look no further than Chris Foerster, who was hired as the 49ers offensive line coach prior to the 2021 season.
Foerster took over that role with over 40 years of coaching experience, logging over 20 as an offensive line coach in the NFL that included stops with seven different teams, including the 49ers for two seasons during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Since he took over the reins in San Francisco, he has led a unit that has been among the best in the entire league despite having eight different week one starters over the last two years. His work has also helped produce key contributions from two very young first time starters in Aaron Banks and Spencer Burford.
While most offensive line coaches are not household names even among the most devout of NFL fans, Foerster’s is one that likely rings a few more bells than most of his colleagues in the same role.
That’s largely because of some personal issues that surfaced in 2017 during his time as the offensive line coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. Fast-forward six years, and he is now leading one of the most efficient groups in the league on a team that has comfortably become a perennial championship contender.
Mistakes are not what defines us. How we respond to them does. What makes Foerster’s success with the 49ers special is the way he was able to rebound and make the most of a second chance he was given.
That’s all any of us can ask for in an imperfect world where we all fall victim to the pitfalls of our own errors, no matter how big or small they may be. Foerster recovered from his, and the 49ers are now better off because of it, as they reap the rewards of the increased production that has been sustained under his watch.