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O-Line Left Its Mark On Highly Ranked Niners Defense

Posted Dec 10, 2012

Front five produced in first game without Jake Long.

Led by the two Smiths – Aldon and Justin, the San Francisco 49ers defense presented the toughest challenge thus far to the offensive line of the Miami Dolphins. Sunday’s 27-13 loss at Candlestick Park might indicate to some that Miami failed the test, but that was not the case.

Rookie tackle Jonathan Martin settled into a groove as the game went along and despite allowing Aldon Smith to pick up two sacks on Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, he won more one-on-one battles than he lost. The same can be said about right tackle Nate Garner and the job he did against Justin Smith, but the interior linemen also helped get a good push in the run game.

Center Mike Pouncey and guards Richie Incognito and John Jerry handled the Niners’ quickness by being more physical up front, producing runs of 20 yards by Tannehill and 17 yards by running back Reggie Bush. Tannehill also completed passes of 28 yards to Brian Hartline and 21 yards to Davone Bess.

“I thought the O-line for the most part stepped up and did some good things,” said offensive coordinator Mike Sherman in his weekly press conference. “I thought we ran the ball effectively but not effectively enough and I thought at time we pass protected effectively but not effectively enough. I thought for the group we were going against and the matchups that they had we did a good job.”

San Francisco is allowing an average of 275.5 yards per game (184.7 through the air and 90.8 on the ground) and is tops in the league in scoring defense, giving up just 14.2 points per game. The Niners are one of only two teams (Pittsburgh being the other) to be holding the opposition under 300 yards per game.

When the Dolphins lost Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long for the season last week to a triceps injury, all eyes were on Martin as he made the switch from the right side to the left. Of course, that’s where he played for three years in college at Stanford protecting Andrew Luck’s blindside so it was bound to be a seamless transition. Garner is capable of playing all five positions on the offensive line, so his performance didn’t surprise Sherman either.

“They were going against two of the best pass rushers in football and I thought we schemed up a little bit with how we were going to give them a little bit of help,” Sherman said. “Obviously, at some point they were on their own and I thought they did a good job. They took good pass sets and again give San Francisco all the credit because they have a very stout group and those outside rushers are demons. But I thought our guys hung in there and gave us a chance.”

Head Coach Joe Philbin was particularly pleased with Martin’s run blocking as he helped open holes on the edge for Bush to gain 65 yards on 14 carries. Pouncey got out on the boundary when Bush caught a screen pass and pancaked a linebacker and Incognito engaged with both Smiths a number of times, visibly frustrating both of them.

But Philbin’s background is as an offensive line coach so he looks at all aspects of the blocking schemes and situations, so he came up with more broad evaluation of the offensive line.

“I thought there were some good things on film,” Philbin said. “I thought those guys competed hard every single play. Again, we gave up two sacks. It was okay but we need improvement.”

Pouncey was quick to agree with his head coach as he looks ahead to this Sunday’s home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Sun Life Stadium. He knows how important it is for the Dolphins to get back in the win column after losing two in a row and five of the last six.

“We need a win,” Pouncey said after the game. “We’ve got to turn things around and we’re obviously going home playing a good football team that we have to beat. I know everyone is tired of hearing us say that because we say the same thing week in and out but we’ll get it changed around. I think Coach Philbin and those guys are doing a great job and we’re just going to keep following their lead.”
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