When the 49ers lost center Weston Richburg in a victory over New Orleans on Dec. 8, it was a huge loss.
In his second season with San Francisco, Richburg was having an excellent season, moving and blocking the way he did with the New York Giants before an injury hampered his performance with the 49ers in 2018.
Richburg was the quarterback of the offensive line, a smart and experienced lineman capable to moving well and especially getting into the second level of the defense to help spring big runs.
Yet Ben Garland has played very well in Richburg’s absence.
Garland, in his sixth NFL season, had played 54 NFL games but started just seven – at left guard, not center – and didn’t have Richburg’s pedigree. But, the 6-foot-5, 308-pound former Air Force Academy standout has been a revelation.
With Garland at center, the 49ers offensive line hasn’t missed a beat. The Niners went 2-1 at the end of the regular season with Garland as the starter, and then beat Minnesota this past weekend, 27-10, in the divisional round of the playoffs.
According to Jeff Deeney of the analytic website Pro Football Focus, Garland had a terrific game against the Vikings. Garland and tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey were outstanding, Deeney noted, giving up just two sacks to one of the league’s best pass-rushing teams and opening holes for the running game, which gained 186 yards on a whopping 47 attempts.
Wrote Deeney of Garland: “There’s been little to no drop-off since Garland stepped in for Weston Richburg in Week 14 as the 49ers starting center. Garland did not allow a single quarterback pressure against the Vikings on Saturday. He was also key in the 49ers running game that put up 186 yards on the ground, earning an 80.7 run-blocking grade.”
Garland and the 49ers next will host the Green Bay Packers Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, which is set to kick off at 3:40 p.m. San Francisco is a 7½-point favorite.