Thoughts on 49ers' pass protection

October, 1, 2008
10/01/08
9:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Observations on the 49ers' pass protection against the Saints after watching the game and breaking down the team's offensive personnel use:

  • None of the six sacks was on third down. That means the 49ers weren't necessarily getting beat in obvious passing situations.
  • Right tackle Barry Sims needed more help. The Saints established early on that Sims wasn't going to handle defensive end Charles Grant. But the 49ers still took their chances. Grant beat Sims to the inside on two sacks. If the 49ers had helped him with a tight end, Sims could have set up inside without worrying so much about the edge.
  • Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan is not going to make it through the season without better protection and more consistent decision making. He took a pounding. In the fourth quarter, Grant lifted Sims off the ground and hit O'Sullivan right after the quarterback threw. O'Sullivan was limping when he got up.
  • The 49ers either had assignment problems or got out-schemed on a few pressures. Left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Adam Snyder both blocked inside on defensive end Will Smith, allowing cornerback Tracy Porter to escape untouched to the outside for a sack. If Porter hadn't gotten there, cornerback Usama Young would have hit O'Sullivan from the other side.
  • Two of the six sacks came when the 49ers went with empty backfields. I know, the 49ers scored a touchdown from an empty set. But I see offenses in this division struggle more often than not when they empty the backfield. It's a cocky move by play callers and one I've seen backfire on Martz, Mike Holmgren and others. Spreading the defense makes little sense if the other team is getting immediate pressure with as few as three rushers.
  • Tight end Vernon Davis is one of the 49ers' better pass protectors. He blocked Smith, a talented defensive end, on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. Smith got the sack on the second play, but Davis did his job in protection. O'Sullivan held the ball too long, giving Smith time to chase him down.
  • The 49ers had a tight end on the field for every sack, but in most cases the tight end wasn't in position to help protect.
  • The Saints got pressure with only three rushers on O'Sullivan's 36-yard strike on third-and-16 in the fourth quarter. Grant beat Sims again. O'Sullivan stepped up to avoid the pressure, making an aggressive throw.
It's hard not to admire the way O'Sullivan fights through the hits. I just think he's taking too many sacks -- 19 through four games -- and too many hits to last.

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