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August 28, 2011
49ers-Texans: Breaking down the breakdowns

The 49ers' offensive line was worse against the Houston Texans than it was against the New Orleans Saints. At least in the Saints game, the unit had two excuses: 1.) It was the first game of the preseason and the 49ers offense simply hadn't spent a lot of time together. 2.) The Saints pounded the offensive line with blitzes, sending six and seven players on just about every pass play.


Neither excuse was available in Saturday's 30-7 loss to Houston. The Texans mostly rushed the same four linemen on every play and those linemen simply beat the 49ers on one-on-one matchups. The 49ers made Antonio Smith, a guy who has never had more than 5 ½ sacks in seven seasons, look like the second coming of Michael Strahan.

Meanwhile, the captain of the offensive line, Joe Staley, couldn't handle 260-pound defensive end-linebacker Connor Barwin. "No question about it, we have work to do and we have to play better," Jim Harbaugh said Sunday. "And we have to coach better."

Here's a hit-by-hit look at the 49ers breakdowns:

3rd and 5 at SF 40. The Texans rush four. Joe Staley seems to be expecting Barwin to use a speed move around the edge. Instead Barwin staggers the left tackle with his inside hand and drives him into quarterback Alex Smith for the sack and a loss of six yards. The mistake is that Staley allows Barwin to get his hands into Staley's body before Staley can do the same to him.

2nd and 1 at SF 29. The Texans rush four. Left guard Mike Iupati initially blocks down on defensive tackle Shaun Cody before realizing that Antonio Smith is blowing past him to his left. He sacks Alex Smith for a six-yard loss. Staley, meanwhile, is left blocking no one, an indication that communication issues were once again a problem between Staley and Iupati. Meanwhile on the other side, Mario Williams gets past Anthony Davis and would have sacked, or at least hit, Alex Smith if Antonio Smith hadn't.

3rd and 8 at SF 22. The Texans rush four. This time Antonio Smith is on the other side. He goes low past Adam Snyder, who is at right guard, and crashes into Alex Smith's left leg as he throws. The sideline throw to Ted Ginn is on target but Ginn is unable to get both feet in bounds. The 49ers have to punt.

3rd and 2 at SF 41. The Texans rush four. Mario Williams is called for roughing the passer on the play, but it's really Barwin who lays the bigger hit on Colin Kaepernick, who has now entered the game for Alex Smith. Barwin, who used a power move on Staley earlier, catches Staley flat-footed and goes around him to the inside. Meanwhile, Williams leaps over Kendall Hunter on the other side, arriving at Kaepernick at the same time as Barwin. A few years ago, the play would have been a five-yard sack. The 49ers are bailed out by the roughing-the-passer call.

1st and 10 at HST 47. The Texans rush five. Jim Harbaugh sends Alex Smith back into the game with 29 seconds left in the half. Antonio Smith gets past Chilo Rachal, who is back at right guard, forcing Alex Smith to step forward in the pocket. Meanwhile, linebacker Brian Cushing blitzes on the play from the same side. Right tackle Alex Boone picks up Cushing but allows the linebacker to get around him and Cushing hits Alex Smith as he throws. The ball is incomplete.

2nd and 10 at HST 47. The Texans rush four. Center Jonathan Goodwin is one on one with Antonio Smith but can't handle him. He plows into Alex Smith mid-delivery and the ball is easily intercepted by free safety Troy Nolan. Meanwhile, Staley is overpowered by Barwin, who also crashes into Smith for good measure.

**Bonus lapse**. Another negative play occurred on first down of the first series Kaepernick led. He handed off to Anthony Dixon, who was cut down by defensive end JJ Watt for a two-yard loss. Right tackle Anthony Davis was supposed to block Watt on the play, but Watt, a rookie, got inside of Davis and shot in to make the tackle.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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