The guys in the trenches never get much credit, save the cliches we’re used to hearing when analysts are too lazy to actually analyze. Like, “This game will be won or lost in the trenches!” or “The 49ers will have to win the battle in the trenches!” Once the clock hits triple zeroes, the highlights are all Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree — never Alex Boone or Joe Staley.
But in the 49ers’ 23-20 victory over the Packers, perhaps no one played a bigger role than Kaepernick’s protection. Anthony Davis tweeted (and subsequently deleted, as he usually does) that not a single defensive end or outside linebacker that he faced got more than two yards upfield on him, and as it turns out, that’s true. Davis graded out a +2.1 overall on Pro Football Focus, and didn’t give up a single pressure on 38 pass blocking snaps.
The same can be said for nearly everyone on the 49ers offensive line. Kaepernick was sacked three times, but PFF ruled the quarterback responsible for two of them while the third was credited to Mike Iupati. Beyond Iupati’s allowed sack, the offensive line only gave up two hurries. That’s all for the entire game.
This shouldn’t surprise you, but Frank Gore was equally impressive blocking. He only stayed in for blitz protection nine times, but he pitched a shutout in the process and threw some huge downfield blocks.
Here are a couple examples:
On 4th-and-6, Colin Kaepernick dropped back and threw a 31-yard bomb to Michael Crabtree. The play wouldn’t have been possible without a perfect pocket from the offensive line and a beautiful pickup by Gore:
Few plays in this game were more important than Kaepernick’s 42-yard scramble, and a huge downfield block by Gore made it happen:
The 49ers faced a 2nd-and-7 early in the third quarter, and Kaepernick dropped back to hit Michael Crabtree 22 yards downfield. The Packers rushed five, but none of them got close to the quarterback:
Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis for a crucial 28-yard touchdown (that looked a lot like The Catch II) in the fourth quarter, and again, he had a perfect pocket:
The Panthers will represent a different, much tougher defensive opponent this Sunday. Green Bay’s defense was without Clay Matthews last week (for better or for worse), and we saw in Week 10 how formidable Carolina’s front seven is. The 49ers’ pass protection has taken some due criticism this year, but if they’re coming into form the way it appears they did on Sunday, this offense has a good chance of putting up points on the Panthers.
The game really shouldn't have been as close as it was. Failing to convert those two early red zone opportunities was huge, as was our being shut out in the 3rd quarter. We had two significant drives in the 3rd quarter that should have netted points: one of them when we got down to the GB 25 yard line, then took a sack on 3rd down, taking us out of field goal range and one where we started at the 50 yard line and went 3 and out.
Both of those drives should have ended in at least field goals. The sack on 3rd down was especially damaging. I'm not sure if we would have attempted a 42 yard field goal from the 25 if we hadn't of gained a yard, but the offensive play should have been safer in that situation to ensure that we didn't suffer a sack that would take us out of field goal range. A run probably would have been the best play call there, as points were clearly at a premium.
We will have to play better offensively against a much better Carolina defense. Kaep won't be able to save drives with his legs nearly as much because the Panthers are not stupid and are much more disciplined than the Packers D. They will contain Kaep in the pocket. Which means our run game needs to step up and Kaep needs to win it with his arm. We can do this, but we will have to execute much better than we did at Green Bay.