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SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers offense may revolve around Frank Gore, as Jeff Fisher put it, but the St. Louis Rams coach is also impressed with San Francisco's wide receivers this season.
“It’s the best group that we’ve faced since I’ve been here,” Fisher said Thursday in a conference call to Bay Area reporters. “Look at all the plays they’re making.”
The plays have been spectacular, and at times, they have had to be. As unique a talent as Gore may be, he is paired with an offensive line that excels in blocking for him.
Through five games, Mike Iupati tops Pro Football Focus’ rankings as the highest-rated run blocking guard in the league, by far.
Left tackle Joe Staley and center Daniel Kilgore also received positive grades for their run-blocking abilities.
But when Colin Kaepernick attempts to pass, PFF’s rankings of the offensive line flip.
“As good at run blocking as they are bad in pass protection. Iupati is the poster child for the team in the sense, top of all guards with his run blocking and bottom 10 in pass protection.” --Khaled Elsayed, Pro Football Focus
Ranking even lower than Iupati in pass protection is right guard Alex Boone.
“It appears missing most of training camp hasn’t been a good way to start the year for Alex Boone who has looked a little rusty. Never the best in pass protection, he’s taken a noticeable step back.” – Elsayed, PFF
In fact, PFF gave negative grades to the entire right side of the 49ers offensive line.
Boone (3) and Jonathan Martin (4) are charged with giving up more than half of the sacks on Kaepernick this season. Boone gave up only two sacks in 16 regular season games last year.
Overall, PFF ranks the 49ers offensive line second-best in the league in run-blocking and 28th in pass-blocking. The NFL’s own statistics paint a similar picture. The 49ers rushing offense is ranked third best in the league. The passing offense is ranked 26th. Only four teams have given up more sacks.
When I asked Boone about PFF's assessment of the offensive line's pass blocking abilities, he said he had never heard of the football rating service.
“I think that people can always say they think they know what we’re doing. Who knows? We’re really the only ones that know what we’re doing. Some of our pass plays, they’re complicated,” Boone said. "People think that we all should slide this way but that’s not how it works.
"You have a gap. You have a zone. You have a man. Everything is different. It changes with their front. Sometimes people get a little exotic, and they do. And things get a little complicated for us up front because it’s not like, ‘OK, well let’s all just slide left.’ Or, ‘Let’s slide right.’ It’s, ‘Hey, I’ve got the ‘B’ gap,’ or ‘I have the ‘A’ gap’ or ‘I have this guy no matter where he goes.’ Sometimes people hit us with some exotic stuff. It gets a little complicated. At the same time, that’s football, you have to live with it.”