49ers' QBs can thank OL, and vice versa

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
3:38
PM ET
Pro Football Hall of Famer John Madden has chosen the San Francisco 49ers' offensive line as the NFL's best for the 2012 season.



Left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Mike Iupati, center Jonathan Goodwin, right guard Alex Boone and right tackle Anthony Davis can take pride in the honor. So can the 49ers' tight ends and backup guards Leonard Davis and Daniel Kilgore, who have also helped out.

Football is a team sport, but individuals often command much of the attention.

Years ago, smart analysts would look past the skill-position players to credit offensive lines for much of a team's success. Now, it's assumed people know offensive lines are critically important. We've progressed to a point where offensive lines can get too much credit or blame for sacks allowed and overall offensive performance.

The 49ers provide an opportunity to pursue the truth. They started the same five offensive linemen in the same spots in each of their 18 games, counting playoffs. Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick have each started nine games.



With that in mind, I've produced a couple of charts showing how much better the 49ers' offensive line might appear in pass protection based on which quarterback was in the game. Even the best linemen can look bad if their quarterbacks hold onto the ball too long or fail to make plays when pressured.

Both charts show stats only for games when each quarterback started.

The first one shows how many seconds Smith and Kaepernick have spent in the pocket on average, and how many seconds on average they have held the ball before passing. Kaepernick spends a little more time than Smith on both counts, but his percentage of sacks taken is about half.

We might conclude that Kaepernick helps out the 49ers' offensive line more than Smith helps out the line.

The second chart shows how both quarterbacks fare when pressured by opposing defenses. Smith averages negative yardage on a per drop-back basis, a figure counting sacks. Kaepernick averages 4.7 yards per drop-back when pressured. That is one reason Kaepernick has the much higher Total QBR score in these situations (43.2 to 2.2).

So, be sure to give the 49ers' offensive line credit for a strong season. Those guys have played a leading role in the team's success. Let's also realize quarterbacks can help put a good line over the top.

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