The 49ers matched an ignominious team record on Sunday, allowing nine sacks in the team’s 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
And while it goes without stating that the team’s offensive line did not exactly have a strong day, you might be surprised to learn how little the line contributed to the problems in pass protection.
Three of the sacks occurred due to unblocked defenders as part of the play design on short-passing attempts. Fullback Bruce Miller and tight end Brian Leonhardt were beaten for two other sacks. And quarterback Blaine Gabbert shoulders the blame for some of those sacks with his reluctance to throw the ball away. Those nine sacks, three of which came when Gabbert ran out of bounds, accounted for 44 negative yards.
It was the fifth time in franchise history the 49ers have allowed nine sacks in a game. The last time was Thanksgiving night of 2011 against the Baltimore Ravens when Alex Smith absorbed 44 yards in sacks.
In 1998, the Green Bay Packers sacked Steve Young nine times for 54 yards. The Packers won 36-22. In 1988, the Los Angeles Rams sacked Joe Montana eight times for 40 yards and Young was sacked once for five yards in the Rams’ 38-16 win. And in 1963, the Detroit Lions sacked Lamar McHam three times for 23 yards and Bobby Waters six times for 50 yards in the Lions’ 26-3 victory.
On this one day, the 49ers surpassed the single-season team record for fewest sacks allowed. In 1970, John Brodie was sacked eight times for 67 yards in the entire season.
Here’s a breakdown of the 49ers’ nine breakdowns that led to nine sacks:
Sack No. 1: First quarter, second and 10 from SF 41
Gabbert faked a handoff to the left side, then kept the ball on a naked bootleg. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who was unblocked, was not fooled. He chased Gabbert out of bounds for a 1-yard loss. Safety Donte Whitner was covering tight end Blake Bell. He was the closest defender when Gabbert went out of bounds, so he was credited with the sack.
Sack No. 2: First quarter, second and 9 from SF 38
Fullback Bruce Miller lined up on the left side and came across the formation in plenty of time to pick up outside linebacker Armonty Bryant. But Miller overran his assignment, allowing Bryant to make an inside move and drop Gabbert for a 10-yard sack. Gabbert had an opportunity to get rid of the ball to avoid the sack.
Sack No. 3: Second quarter, fourth and 1 from CLE 30
Gabbert made a not-real-convincing play fake to Shaun Draughn to the right side. Then, Gabbert set up to throw to Bell on the backside. Bell acted as if were blocking, but let outside linebacker Nate Orchard get past him to run his pattern. Linebacker Christian Kirksey, assigned to cover Bell, got tied up at the line of scrimmage with guard Alex Boone. Bell was open, but Gabbert did not throw it. Orchard continued untouched to Gabbert for a 6-yard sack.
Sack No. 4: Second quarter, third and 3 from SF 34
The Browns showed blitz with seven men positioned at the line of scrimmage. But they sent a three-man rush, dropping eight into coverage at the snap. Kruger forced Gabbert out of the pocket with his pass rush against right tackle Erik Pears. Gabbert scrambled to his left and ran out of bounds at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Defensive back Jordan Poyer was credited with the sack.
Sack No. 5: Second quarter, second and 5 from CLE 39
The Browns had a four-man rush, and Gabbert had time to throw. But he did not pull the trigger with no receivers open. Kruger eventually got around Pears to force Gabbert to step up. Desmond Bryant got no initial pressure against Boone, but when Gabbert slid up in the pocket, Bryant followed him and got the sack for a 2-yard loss.
Sack No. 6: Third quarter, first and 15 from SF 37
The 49ers tried to set up a screen for Bell, but Orchard got his hands on him and drove him back, not allowing him to get into the pattern. With no available receiver, Gabbert rolled to his right and ran out of bounds for a 3-yard loss. He said he did not throw the ball away because the 49ers had offensive linemen blocking past the line of scrimmage and wanted to avoid an ineligible-man-downfield penalty. Linebacker Christian Kirksey got credit for the 3-yard sack.
Sack No. 7: Third quarter, second and 18 from SF 34
Xavier Cooper and Kruger lined up against the right side of the 49ers’ offensive line and ran a well-executed stunt. Pears was blocking Kruger and switched off on Cooper too late, as Cooper got around him. Meanwhile, center Daniel Kilgore was giving ground to Desmond Bryant. Cooper and Bryant were credited with a split-sack for minus-7 yards.
Sack No. 8: Fourth quarter, first and 10 from SF 34
New 49ers tight end Brian Leonhardt motioned to the right side, where he was assigned to block Orchard. However, Orchard easily got around Leonhardt to drop Gabbert for a 6-yard loss.
Sack No. 9: Fourth quarter, second and 9, CLE 42
The Browns came with a five-man rush, three of them off the left side of the 49ers’ line. Defensive back K’Waun Williams blitzed off the right side untouched and forced Gabbert to step up and slide to his right. While left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Marcus Martin were focused on Cooper, Armonty Bryant looped around Martin and was credited with a 9-yard sack. Gabbert could have gotten the ball out quickly to Bruce Ellington or Jerome Simpson, but the two receivers ran into each on their shallow crossing routes.