After suffering a concussion against the Giants, 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley wasn’t even expected to play against the Seahawks this past Thursday night.
But there he was, in the lineup and making a difference, working with his offensive linemates to open holes for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter as San Francisco rushed for 175 yards in the 49ers’ 13-6 victory.
Staley was cleared by doctors to play, and then helped the 49ers do what they do best: run the football in what San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said was one of the most physical games he’s seen since becoming head coach last season.
Though it’s Gore and Hunter who are getting the glory, it’s Staley and Co. who are making their success happen.
The 49ers’ offensive line was a strength last season, and it is again in 2012 as San Francisco has jumped out to a 5-2 record and the NFC West lead as it prepares to face the 4-3 Cardinals in Arizona Monday night.
Tackles Staley and Anthony Davis, guards Mike Iupati and Alex Boone and center Jonathan Goodwin have been consistently excellent. Boone, a converted tackle, is the only new starter this season, and his play has far surpassed expectations.
This week, in fact, Pro Football Focus ranked the offensive line play of every team in the NFL – based on analysis and grading of every play this season, on film – and ranked the 49ers as the No. 1 offensive line in the league.
Pro Football Focus ranks the 49ers No. 1 overall, No. 1 in run blocking, 10th in pass blocking and 12th in penalties committed.
“The 49ers’ offensive line has a run blocking score over three times greater than the next highest,” said the Pro Football Focus assessment. “They have four men on our NFC Pro Bowl squad after seven weeks. They are, for want of a better word, awesome.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Boone has the highest cumulative run-blocking grade in the NFL at guard, Iupati ranks No. 3, Goodwin is No. 1 at center and Staley is No. 1 at tackle.
According to Pro Football Weekly, Boone’s performance against the Seahawks was particularly dominating. A “team insider” told Pro Football Weekly that right offensive tackle Anthony Davis has possibly been the team’s best overall lineman this season, “But Boone has been really, really good. It’s amazing how athletic he is. He has done everything really well. And he plays with such an edge. You know he just loves what he’s doing.”
After the victory against Seattle, Harbaugh was effusive in his praise of his offensive line.
“Guys up front, they’re doing a good good,” he told reporters, and cited Goodwin – who hadn’t been feeling well – for having “a heck of a night.”
Gore, who ran for 131 yards vs. Seattle, said the line was the reason.
“They did a great job,” he said. “Coach G-Ro (offensive coordinator Greg Roman) did a great job scheming them up. As long as everybody’s on one page, we can do great things in the running game.”
And, of course, as long as the guys up front continue to open big holes.