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August 13, 2011
Breaking down the o-line breakdowns

Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams set the tone early in Friday's preseason opener against the 49ers. On the first play of the game, he sent seven rushers at quarterback Alex Smith. The 49ers picked up the blitz, Smith located his hot read, tight end Vernon Davis, but the throw was too low and skipped across Davis' feet.


Smith and second-string quarterback Colin Kaepernick would go onto absorb several big hits and a combined five sacks behind San Francisco's first-team offensive line. Some of the lapses were a result of Saints' blitzes that weren't picked up. Others occurred because individual linemen were beaten, sometimes by the Saints' backups. Here's the hit-by-hit and sack-by-sack breakdown:

Series 1
3rd and 7 from SF 23: The Saints send seven rushers, but it's defensive end Will Smith, not a blitzer, who crashes into Alex Smith. Will Smith gets inside left tackle Joe Staley with a rip move and crashes down on Alex Smith, driving the quarterback's throwing shoulder into the ground. This is the same scenario that resulted in Smith badly separating the shoulder in 2007. In this case, Smith pops back up. Immediately after the play, Staley turns and yells at left guard Mike Iupati, who blocked down on the defensive tackle, not Will Smith, on the play. The play is ruled incomplete - no sack and no fumble.

Series 2
2nd and 5 from the SF 13: The Saints send safety Roman Harper off the left side of the 49ers offensive line, and he slams into Smith and knocks the ball free. New Orleans again sends seven rushers. Both Staley and tight end Davis block down on linebacker Will Herring and neither picks up Harper. Running back Frank Gore also whiffs on his block on defensive end Alex Brown, who is rushing from the opposite side. The result of the play: sack No. 1 and a six-yard loss

Series 3
3rd and 5 from the SF 17: Right tackle Anthony Davis gets an excellent jump on the play - so excellent that he should have been called for a false start. Still, Will Smith is able to get around him and to get a hand on the football as Alex Smith is bringing it back. It's not awful blocking on Davis' part and Smith has some semblance of a pocket. But he doesn't sense the pressure coming from his right. Result of the play: sack No. 2 and a four-yard loss.

Series 4
2nd and 9, SF 14: The Saints send six rushers. One of them is Harper, who this time is blitzing from the right side of the San Francisco line. He goes right past tight end Delanie Walker, who should realize Harper is blitzing and that he's uncovered. Walker instead runs a deep route and Smith's pass lands incomplete. Smith absorbs his third big hit of the opening quarter. Result of the play: a third-and-long situation.

Series 6
1st and 10, NO 40: Kaepernick replaces Smith on this drive but the first-team offensive line still is in the game for the 49ers. The Saints have their backup defense on the field. Cornerback Leigh Torrence lines up on the line of scrimmage next to the Saints left defensive end. No one on picks him up when he blitzes, however. Kaepernick manages to elude Torrence but can't get back to the line of scrimmage. Result of the play: sack No. 3 and a loss of a yard.

2nd and 11, NO 41: The Saints initially send five rushers, but linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar comes on a delayed blitz. Center Adam Snyder is pushed back into the pocket and left guard Mike Iupati can't pick up Dunbar as well as the man he is initially blocking. Result of the play: sack No. 4 and a five-yard loss.

3rd and 16, NO 46: The Saints only rush four. What's more, the 49ers have six blockers with tight end Walker remaining back in pass protection. The Saints put most of their defenders in coverage, Kaepernick can't find an open man and defensive tackle Mitch King spins free of right guard Chilo Rachal to grab Kaepernick. Result of the play: sack No. 5 for the first-team offensive line and a six-yard loss.

-- 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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