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How to measure 49ers' offensive line

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' offensive line suffered at times through personnel changes last season, particularly on the right side. I would not necessarily take that to mean the line was headed in the wrong direction once Mike Singletary took over as head coach, as K.C. Joyner suggested in a provocative entry on the New York Times' Fifth Down blog.

Among the potentially mitigating factors:

  • The decision to play Chilo Rachal at right guard late in the season was a move made with the long-term future in mind. He probably wasn't as consistent as he might be in the future. I cannot document that; it might not be true; but it is my impression.

  • The situation at right tackle lacked stability all season. How did that affect the line's performance late in the season, not just in one-on-one matchups but in overall cohesiveness? Might be worth consideration.

  • The 49ers made a more concerted effort to run the ball late in the season. They more frequently ran the ball when the opponent likely knew a running play was coming. This probably allowed opposing defenses to brace for the run more effectively. It was a price the 49ers were willing to pay as they tried to establish an identity in the run game.

This last point is the most important one to consider, I think. For example, the 49ers ran the ball five consecutive times to open their game against Buffalo. They averaged only 2.1 yards per attempt in that game, but I thought the run game was effective.

My take at the time:

The 49ers ran the ball on 14 of their first 23 plays during their 10-3 victory at Buffalo. They called passes on 14 of the next 17 plays spanning halftime before running on nine of their final 12 plays to close out the game.

The production on the ground wasn't what helped the 49ers prevail in this game. The 49ers' running backs averaged only 2.4 yards per carry. But in a close game played in cold and wet conditions, the 49ers' loyalty to the run minimized the chances for the sacks and interceptions that can turn a game in an instant.

Yes, Frank Gore fumbled a couple of times, but Gore lost yardage only twice in 24 carries. The 49ers also ran the ball on nine of 18 second-down plays. These are the situations when certain offensive coordinators -- no one in particular, of course -- can get a little greedy through the air. Not the 49ers at Buffalo. They put more than three wide receivers on the field twice on first or second down and seven times overall.