Mike Iupati is one reason the 49ers' running game has been so strong in recent seasons. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The 49ers’ offensive line has been remarkable, not only for its performance over the past three seasons, but for its durability.
For the past 29 consecutive games, San Francisco has started the same fab five: left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Mike Iupati, center Jonathan Goodwin, right guard Alex Boone and right tackle Anthony Davis.
On Monday night against the Washington Redskins, however, that streak will come to an end. Iupati, who suffered an injury to his left knee late in Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, isn’t expected to play Monday night. So, Adam Snyder – the veteran who used to start at right guard before leaving for Arizona in free agency and then returning over the offseason – will start in his place.
Originally, it was feared Iupati's injury might be season-ending. However, he's now been diagnosed with a sprained knee. It's not certain yet when he'll be able to return.
Iupati -- who has started 58 straight games -- is one of two 49ers starters expected to be sidelined for Monday’s game. Cornerback Tarrell Brown, who has a rib injury, will be replaced by nickel corner Tramaine Brock, with newcomer Eric Wright slipping into the No. 3 cornerback role.
Iupati’s absence isn’t a good thing for the struggling 49ers offense. Iupati, a Pro Bowl pick last season, is a devastating run blocker and one of the NFL’s strongest players. Iupati, a 6-foot-5, 331-pounder, has been described in the past as a “bulldozer” who clears the way for 49ers running backs Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael.
Niners running back coach Tom Rathman said Iupati has the size, strength and determination to blow defenders off the ball.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” Rathman said last season, when asked if Iupati were among the top run blockers in the NFL. “You look at how big he is. He can cover up a defender and he can get movement on him. That’s the biggest thing.”
This season, Iupati again has helped the 49ers establish themselves as one of the best running teams in the NFL. The Niners rank fifth in the league with 141 yards rushing per game and rank third in attempts, with 31.6 per game.
On Monday night against the host Redskins, the Niners will face a team that’s been vulnerable to running and passing. Washington ranks 19th in the NFL, allowing 115 yards per game. They’ve been even worse in pass defense, allowing 274.9 yards, sixth worst in the league.
Gore believes that with Snyder, the Niners are blessed to have a capable veteran to step in.
“Mike’s a great player, a Pro Bowl player,” Gore told the team’s website this week. “He helps us out a lot. But Snyder is a vet player. He’s been playing since he was a rookie. He’ll be fine.”
After losing two consecutive games – by a total of just four points – the 49ers (6-3) know they need to come away with a victory against Washington (3-7).
“We’re trying to get back on track,” said Gore. “Monday night should be a great game.”