Marlins Fan's Blog

Much has been made this season about the wonderful job Jim Harbaugh has done with the 49ers.  Muc has been made about Frank Gore's great season, Alex Smith's surprisingly not-horrible season and the offenses' overall effective if not jaw-dropping efficiency.

Much has been made about how well the defense has played.

All of these seperate factions deserve some credit.  All have either met or exceeded expectations and are a big part of San Francisco's 11-3 record.

But there are a couple of factors which have pretty much been ignored, even though they have made a huge impact in the 49ers' turnaround from a mediocre NFC West team to one of the NFC's top seeds and owners of the NFL's second best record.  (which  at 11-3 is equal to the Saints and Patriots records)

One of those previously unnamed factors is the special teams.  Philly castoff David Akers is leading the NFL in made field goals and has made 36-42 overall, including an impressive 6-7 from 50 yards or more.  Punter Andy Lee is tied for the League lead at 43.7 net yards per punt, and as anyone who has seen him punt can attest, the man has a cannon for a leg and is deadly accurate.  The 49ers have a couple of nice weapons in Akers and Lee.

But perhaps even more important to San Fran's win total has been the offensive line.  Frank Gore is 4th in the League and rushing which isn't much of a surprise, but not only is the running game good, Alex Smith has been pretty decent as well and that's something I never thought I would say.

The reason I say the offensive line is critical to the 49ers success though is not just the overall dominance of Gore or the steadiness of Smith.

It's this:  in the 49ers 11 wins, Smith has been sacked a total of 19 times.  In their 3 losses, he's been sacked 20 times.  Likewise, in 49er wins Frank Gore is averaging almost 90 YPG and over 4.6 YPC, and in losses those numbers drop to under 53 YPG and under 3.6 YPC.  (taking the Giants game out of the equation; San Fran won the game but Gore only had 6 carries due to injury)

Obviously there is a direct correlation between the play of the offensive line and the simultaneous rise and fall of the passing and rushing games.  What I'm saying is these stats let us see that when the O-Line performs well, so does the entire offense.  When the O-Line struggles, so does the entire offense.

So the offensive line is responsible for the performance of the entire offense, which is usually the case for all teams but in San Fran's case it means the difference between wins and losses.  It is safe to say that when opposing defenses can get past San Fran's O-line they are able to completely disrupt the 49er offense and San Francisco will almost definitely lose the game.  Conversely, when the O-Line maintains their blocks and keeps the backfield empty the 49ers are pretty well on their way to victory.

Again, this is typical for most teams but for San Francisco it's almost a prerequisite for winning and losing, without exception.

Comment #1 has been removed
December 20, 2011  03:45 AM ET

Hmmmm. Offensive line? They're great at run blocking and have come a long way since the Baltimore game as far as pass protection. Good read. Gold Rush!!!!!

Comment #3 has been removed
December 20, 2011  02:34 PM ET

Good job mentioning Akers and Lee. They should be team co-MVP's.

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December 20, 2011  05:28 PM ET

Excellent piece. This is also the reason my Rams have dipped back into crapdom this year. Bradford isn't even finished dropping back (even in the shotgun), and defenders are in his face. He is taking a terrible beating on every play. The O-line really is the Alpha and the Omega of success. The Rams D has played their hearts out this year, but has gotten worn down nearly every game because the offense can't move the damn ball. No protection, no first downs. No first downs, no touchdowns.By the way. I still hate the 49ers.

You guys will add Matt Kalil in the draft, and at the least you'll know Bradford's back side is protected.

December 20, 2011  05:30 PM ET

Good blog.

While I agree with all that is written, lets not kid ourselves, this team is probably 7-7 without the defense being as dominant as it has been. Aldon Smith gets better every week. Bowman is basically a slightly lesser version of Patrick Willis. The secondary is making big plays almost every week now. Justin Smith is Justin Smith. etc etc etc.

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January 11, 2012  05:31 AM ET

And now the Niners will ride their strengths to a victory over the Saints


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