Here's an interesting breakdown from the guys at Football Outsiders that mathematically shows what every 49ers fan strongly suspected about the 2009 team: The offensive line wasn't very good. In fact, FO ranks the 49ers dead last in a category it calls adjusted line yards (running plays).
Not surprisingly, the 49ers ranked last in "stuffs," which is when the ball carrier was tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. According to the data, 49ers running backs were stuffed 24 percent of the time. That is, one in every four carries went for no gain or negative yardage. FO also puts the 49ers last in runs between five and 10 yards. However, they rank fourth overall in runs of 10 or more yards, which, to me, is a credit to Frank Gore. That is, he made the most of the rare occurrences that he had room to roam. The study also breaks down where the 49ers ran the most (hint: right up the gut) and where they had their most success (hint: not right up the gut). It's worth checking out.
The question, however, is whether the 49ers' futility can be blamed entirely on the offensive line. To me, a hefty amount of blame goes to coaching. If 71 percent of your runs are up the middle (only Jacksonville had a higher percentage), opponents have a pretty good idea of what's coming at them. Players also complained privately that their protection schemes never varied throughout the season. Again, that made the 49ers predictable and put the players in an unenviable position.
I know I've been beating this horse pretty hard, but it seems that adding a fleet-footed playmaker (rhymes with "Killer") to the mix would help out immensely. The 49ers could run more to the outside and defenses couldn't stack themselves against the inside run, which the FO stats practically scream was happening. It seems that an athlete like that, coupled with an offensive tackle who can get out in space and run block, would help the 49ers immensely.
Meanwhile, the team will head to Indianapolis in a couple of days with "offensive lineman" at the top of their checklist. The way I'm reading things now, it appears that there are two linemen at the top of the draft, Oklahoma State's Russell Okung and Rutgers' Anthony Davis, and then there's a dropoff to Oklahoma's Trent Williams, Iowa's Bryan Bulaga and Maryland's Bruce Campbell. It seems that USC's Charles Brown also could work his way into the conversation.
-- Matt Barrows