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September 20, 2011
Six sacks: Breaking down the breakdowns

The 49ers' pass protection is continuing the Jekyl-and-Hyde routine it started in the preseason. After allowing no sacks in Week 1, the 49ers gave up six against the Cowboys, none more damaging than an overtime sack that derailed what began as a promising drive.


On KNBR Tuesday morning, Jim Harbaugh called the sacks a "unit thing" in that there were breakdowns just about everywhere, including the coaching staff. "We all sting from that and are accountable for it," Harbaugh said. Here's a sack-by-sack breakdown.

Second quarter

1st & 10 DAL 41: Maybe you can blame the lockout for this sack. The play is either poorly conceived or poorly executed. Either way, the 49ers obviously need more work. On the play, Alex Smith is supposed to fake a handoff, roll away from the line and then hit either the running back or tight end Vernon Davis with a quick screen. Davis initially blocks outside linebacker Anthony Spencer and then, as you're supposed to do with screens, lets Spencer go. Whether he lets him loose too early or whether the play is slow to develop, who knows? Spencer is immediately in Smith's face for the sack. It's notable that this is the only one of the six sacks that doesn't lead to an Andy Lee punt. The 49ers, at this stage at least, clearly are not an offense that can overcome negative plays.

2nd & 10 SF 30: This one is just a simple case of Dallas having more rushers than the 49ers have blockers. The Cowboys send seven and the 49ers have just six blocker. The unblocked man is defensive end Jason Hatcher, who crashes into Smith. Frank Gore may be Smith's emergency outlet, but he slips while trying to get through the line. Smith had no time to get a pass away anyway.

Third quarter

3rd & 8 SF 22: This one is due to poor technique. The Cowboys only rush five and the 49ers have seven back to protect, including Gore and tight end Delanie Walker. Spencer, however, splits the double team of Joe Staley and Mike Iupati and flushes Smith, who was in the shotgun, to his left where Hatcher, looping around to the outside, is waiting for him. Hatcher will get credit for the sack, but Spencer is the one who made it happen.

1st & 10 DAL 49: After a big, 43-yard return by Kendall Hunter, the 49ers lose momentum with another first-down sack. Staley and Iupati are double-teaming DeMarcus Ware on the play. Ware decides to go around this wall, slipping past the outside of Staley's left shoulder and then swiping at the ball just as Smith brings his arm back to throw. The quarterback does a remarkable job holding onto the ball, but once again, minus-7 yards is too much for the offense to make up, and three plays later the 49ers punt.

Fourth quarter

2nd & 8 SF 35: This play can be looked at in contrast to the effective play-fake the Cowboys ran in overtime on which cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Donte Whitner bit hook, line and sinker. The 49ers run their own play fake, this one coupled with a rollout by Smith to his right. Neither Spencer nor Ware is blocked on the play. It's hard to say how the 49ers were going to account for Ware, last year's sacks leader, on the play. Maybe they thought he would bite inside. He doesn't, and easily sacks Smith for an eight-yard loss.


2nd & 3 SF 39: The Cowboys had just scored on their last two drives to send the game to overtime, and there was no way the 49ers could take a negative play and give the ball back. The Cowboys rush five, but Ware breaks off his rush to cover Gore, to whom Smith wants to check down. Meanwhile, nose tackle Jay Ratliff turns center Jonathan Goodwin's shoulders and charges toward Smith. Smith is locked into his left where there is no one open. If he turns to his right, he'd find receiver Joshua Morgan all alone. But there's no time.

Early lunch break? Join me for an 11 a.m. chat to discuss all things 49ers. But please, no more, "Hey, Matt, who do you think we're gonna take in teh first round of the draft?" questions. That's what January-April is for. Www.sacbee.com/live.

-- 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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