San Francisco 49ers: Breaking Down Why Anthony Davis Needs to Step Up His Play
There's no doubt the San Francisco 49ers had one of the top run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL last season. As a team, they rushed for an outstanding 2,044 yards on 498 attempts. Sure, there were a handful of teams that pumped out more yards than the 49ers, but there definitely wasn't a team who was more consistent in every major statistical rushing category.
Of those 498 rushing attempts, the 49ers only gave the ball away five times, meaning their running backs only fumbled once every 99.6 snaps. Only the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers had a better turnover ratio in the run game.
The additions of Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James will only make the 49ers' ground attack that much more potent, yet at some point, their passing game needs to catch up. And that all starts with the blocking up front.
San Fran's offensive line gave up 31 sacks, 29 hits and 128 hurries. Pro Football Focus had the 49ers' line as the fourth-worst pass-blocking unit in all of football. A lot of the blame can be pointed in the direction of right guard Adam Snyder, who is now with the Arizona Cardinals, but the weakest link is still the starting right tackle.
Even though Anthony Davis has improved since his rookie campaign in 2010, he needs to take that next giant step in 2012. Last year was dismal, as he surrendered 10 sacks and 35 hurries, not to mention he was penalized a team-high eight times.
Let's take a look at which areas he struggled with the most in 2011 by breaking down his three worst habits.
Lack of Bend
In today's NFL, offensive tackles arguably have the hardest job in all of football. Protecting your quarterback from specimens like Cameron Wake, Trent Cole, Von Miller and Chris Long is no easy task. Just ask Anthony Davis.
Speed-rushers off the edge have given him a headache more than once in his short tenure as the 49ers' starting right tackle. Arguably, no left defensive end has given him more trouble than Jason Babin of the Philadelphia Eagles.
In Week 4 of the 2011 regular season, Babin notched three sacks, two quarterback hits and three hurries against Davis.
In the video above, Babin exploits one of Davis' most flawed traits, his ability to bend low enough against speed-rushers. Watch as he comes off the edge in his sprinter stance. By staying low, it gives him leverage to get around No. 76 in an incredible 2.1 seconds.
Even as Babin comes around the corner and makes contact with Davis, he stays low and keeps a low center of gravity. As soon as he gives him a jab to the face mask, he rips through and bee lines to Alex Smith.
With Davis standing straight up and down, there's no question who has the upper hand in this battle. The overall technique on the play isn't awful because at the beginning of the play, he is doing everything right, but once he lets his guard down and loses focus on his technique, it's all over.
Being easily confused by opposing defensive schemes is something that happens to offensive linemen week in and week out—that's what defensive coordinators are paid to do. In all fairness, coaches have been around football a lot longer than most of the offensive linemen in the league, so it's fair to expect some confusion. But looking absolutely lost at times could eventually cost a player his job.
Davis' Week 12 performance against the Ravens was one of his worst performances of the year. It's safe to say that Haloti Ngata and Cory Redding got the better of him on Thanksgiving.
As you watch Davis on this play, pay attention to his head and eye movement. He is so focused on left defensive end Cory Redding that he loses sight of Ngata coming right at him. Yes, it's a double-team from right guard Chilo Rachal, but once Rachal releases to take the twisting Redding, Davis appears to be lost. And by the time he realizes what's going on, Ngata is already upfield putting Smith on his backside.
The pure strength of Ngata appears to be overpowering, but that's exactly what happens when you react late to a play. Half of the battle along the offensive line is being in the right position so you don't get your quarterback killed.
Susceptible to the Bull Rush
After putting up disappointing numbers on the bench press at the NFL scouting combine, many were beginning to wonder if Anthony Davis was strong enough to take on elite pass-rushers in the NFL.
With questions about his strength being raised early on, these questions still come up to this day, especially when he matches up against a player who has a powerful bull rush.
An example of this is another play from the team's Week 12 game against the Ravens. Up to this point, quarterback Alex Smith has been sacked seven times, and Baltimore's defense isn't letting up. Like the sack Davis gave up to Babin, Suggs is down in that same sprinter's stance, but instead of trying to go around Davis, he decides he is going to go right through him.
Terrell Suggs has made more than one offensive tackle look silly in his nine-year career, which is expected of a player of his caliber, but what concerns me the most is his overall lack of resistance and effort on the play.
After he gets beat, it almost seems like he's OK with it. While Suggs is chasing after No. 11, Davis is jogging after him. It's doubtful that he would have caught Suggs, but everything shows up on tape, and I'm sure Smith would appreciate the hustle he put in to try and recover from his horrible play.
Even though I pointed out some glaring weaknesses in Davis' game, I still believe he can be an impact player. He is only 22 years old and he hasn't stopped filling out his frame. It's apparent that he needs to work on his strength and flexibility.
By showing improvement in those two areas, Davis could take the next step and become a Pro Bowl tackle just like his counterpart, Joe Staley.
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