Weeks before he morphed into the NFL’s most nimble 315-pound receiver, offensive tackle Joe Staley proved to be a heavyweight talent scout and prognosticator.
It was back in Week 4 that Staley pronounced that the 49ers offensive line would get its act together, plug its holes against pass rushers and start opening others for Frank Gore.
In the preseason, San Francisco’s offensive line had been a sieve, giving up sacks in bunches.
Then, over the first two games of the regular season, the 49ers’ running game was lifeless and the Cowboys’ six sacks of Alex Smith in Week 2 set off alarms.
But as the 49ers prepared to play the Eagles – after their win in Cincnnati -- Staley fired back at the critics and said the entire offensive unit was coming together.
“Contrary to everyone’s belief, we don’t suck,” he told reporters. “We’re good players and we play well. It comes down to everybody executing. It takes all 11 guys. It doesn’t take five offensive linemen to make a running play go. It takes fullbacks. It takes tight ends. It takes quarterbacks carrying out the fakes, wide receivers blocking downfield. It takes all 11 guys, and we all do our job and we all have to do our part.”
Since then, the offensive line has certainly done its part.
In October, the 49ers rushed for 164 yards vs. the Eagles, 213 yards vs. the Bucs, 203 yards vs. the Lions and 174 yards vs. the Browns.
San Francisco now has the No. 6 rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 137.6 yards per game.
And, after allowing Smith to be sacked 11 times in its first three games, Smith has been sacked just six times over his last four games as San Francisco has jumped out to a 6-1 record and a big lead in the NFC West.
The offensive line, with tackles Staley and Anthony Davis, guards Mike Iupati and Adam Snyder (along with Chilo Rachal) and center Jonathan Goodwin have allowed the 49ers to control the clock and pound the ball against opposing defenses. Also, their athleticism has allowed offensive coordinator Greg Roman to be more creative with his play calling, with linemen pulling and more runs outside the tackles.
“It’s good knowing the linemen can get down the field and move the way they do,” Gore told reporters this week.
Added Staley: “We’re not just a smash-mouth, run-up-the-middle football team. We can run outside and it helps that everybody on offense can run and move. It keeps the playbook wide open.”
This Sunday against the Redskins, the 49ers’ line faces another challenge in a defense that is No. 5 in the NFL in sacks and ranked No. 1 by Football Outsiders.com in pass rush, based on a complex formula.
Washington defensive ends Adam Carriker and Stephen Bowen have combined for 7.5 sacks, while outside linebackers Brian Orakpo (4.5) and Ryan Kerrigan (2) have also made impacts. Kerrigan, a rookie, and Orakpo also have combined for 38 QB pressures.
The guys on the Niners’ offensive line believe they’re up to any challenge.
“He spoke the truth,” Snyder told reporters about Staley’s “we don’t suck” declaration. “We see the guys in our room. … We’ve known all along.”