The 49ers have surrendered more sacks than any other team with a winning record. The 39 times Alex Smith has been brought down behind the line of scrimmage ranks 7th-worst in the league, and after allowing 5 sacks in Arizona it’s become a full-fledged concern.
Sacks don’t tell the whole story when it comes to pass protection, but when there seems to be a strong correlation between Smith getting sacked and the 49ers losing. In San Francisco’s three losses to the Cowboys, Ravens and Cardinals, the 49ers allowed 20 sacks.
I focused heavily on the failings of the Niners’ offensive line after the Cowboys got to Smith 6 times behind the line of scrimmage in Week 2. Today I looked at the loss to the Cardinals to see if Arizona’s 5 sacks were the fault of the o-line, Smith’s inability to throw the ball quickly enough or both.
Sack No. 1
Situation: 7:29 remaining, 1st quarter; 2nd-and-9 from the Cardinals’ 28
Breaking down the breakdown: The Cardinals rushed five. Frank Gore blocked defensive end Calais Campbell, but linebacker Daryl Washington came through the middle untouched for an easy sack.
Smith’s time: 1.9 seconds
Rush to judgment: this was a very similar scene to what the 49ers saw in Baltimore — the Cardinals sent an extra rusher and the 49ers’ o-line had no answer. Smith didn’t have a chance.
Sack No. 2
Situation: 6:57 remaining, 1st quarter; 3rd-and-15 from the Cardinals’ 34
Breaking down the breakdown: The Cardinals sent five guys again, and this time safety Adrian Wilson came through untouched from the right side (the left side of the 49ers’ line). Luckily for the 49ers, Wilson grabbed Smith’s facemask as he ducked, causing Smith to stumble (which led to a sack for Campbell). 15-yard penalty for Arizona.
Smith’s time: 2.6 seconds (before Wilson’s facemask, which occurred a few tenths of a second before Campbell got there)
Rush to judgment: the Niners lucked out here, as Wilson probably should have had a clean sack that would’ve forced a punt.
Sack No. 3
Situation: 5:09 remaining, 1st quarter; 3rd-and-7 from the Cardinals’ 24
Breaking down the breakdown: Third sack in the same series — Patrick Peterson (forgive the repetitive nature of this post) came through untouched for an easy sack from Smith’s blind side. The Cardinals looked to be rushing four down linemen, but Darnell Dockett dropped back into coverage. Kendall Hunter wasn’t there for blitz pickup as he peeled out to Smith’s right as a checkdown option. Smith was running away from Peterson on the play, but didn’t seem fully aware as to where Peterson was. Plus, Peterson is about twice as fast as Smith.
Smith’s time: 2.9 seconds
Rush to judgment: Smith’s pocket awareness — which has been much better this season — was the problem. He had enough time to make a play, although throwing a short pass to Hunter probably wouldn’t have gotten the first down anyway, as that area of the field was pretty well covered.
Sack No. 4
Situation: 11:09 remaining, 2nd quarter; 1st-and-10 from the Cardinals’ 47
Breaking down the breakdown: No blitz this time, just an apparent miscommunication between Jonathan Goodwin and Mike Iupati, as Nick Eason ran straight through their gap for an easy sack.
Smith’s time: 2.7 seconds
Rush to judgment: Eason was in Smith’s line of sight from the start, and instead of looking to get rid of the ball quickly Smith tried to avoid Eason by moving to his left, but didn’t have a chance. Goodwin looked bad as he chased Eason in vain to end the play, but unless you’re a player or coach for the 49ers it’s pretty hard to tell if that breakdown was Goodwin’s fault or Iupati’s.
Sack No. 5
Situation: 5:37 remaining, 4th quarter; 1st-and-10 from the 49ers’ 20
Breaking down the breakdown: No blitz here either, just some good individual pass rushing followed by a curious call by the officials. Darnell Docket used a swim move to easily get by Adam Snyder, then simply ran through the block (and hold) from Goodwin. Dockett got to Smith but barely nudged him (Dockett actually was lying on the ground, holding onto Smith’s left ankle but not really doing anything), as Smith completed a short pass to Frank Gore that was negated due to Smith being called in the grasp.
Smith’s time: 2.9 seconds until Dockett made contact, 3.3 seconds until the play was blown dead
Rush to judgment: Pretty awful blocking by Snyder and Goodwin there. Even though Smith shouldn’t have been called in the grasp, Goodwin’s holding penalty was ignored on the play and the pass to Gore would have lost a yard anyway.
Smith faced a lot of pressure all day, and when it comes to the Cardinals’ 5 sacks I would fault the 49ers’ protection breakdowns more than Smith holding onto the ball too long.
Two positives: the 49ers didn’t have as much of a problem with blitz pickups in the last three quarters after the Cardinals collected those 3 sacks early on in the contest, and the left side of the line wasn’t really to blame for all those sacks even though Joe Staley left early on with a concussion and was replaced by Alex Boone.
Two negatives: the 49ers aren’t scaring anyone right now with Frank Gore at less than full strength and a decidedly average vertical passing attack, and communication problems (missed blocking assignments, false-start and delay of game penalties) have been killing them lately.