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Fretting over NFC West offensive lines

Brad from Harrisburg, Pa., wants to know what is going on with the San Francisco 49ers' offensive line. "I don't expect the quarterback to stay clean all game," he wrote, "but when the quarterback doesn't have time to make a three-step drop, there are issues. Thoughts?"

Mike Sando: I've heard similar concerns from Seattle Seahawks fans regarding their team's line. This might be a good opportunity to address common themes.

Both lines are younger lines. Their key components have not worked together extensively. They didn't get any meaningful time working together during the offseason, thanks to the lockout. Both teams have new offensive coordinators. Both teams are breaking in new centers. Seattle has also been playing without its best offensive lineman, left tackle Russell Okung. Throw together these factors and we should expect issues.

Some of the problems have appeared to be related to communication. It's not always possible to know exactly what each offensive lineman was supposed to do on a given play, particularly on the interior. But there have been times watching these lines when I suspected a tackle thought he would get help from a guard on a play. Those sorts of issues work themselves out once teams are honing game plans for opponents, and once linemen play together for an extended period.

I would still rather have the raw talent on the Seahawks' and 49ers' lines over the raw talent on the Arizona Cardinals' line. But I would rather have the Cardinals' line for a game played this week. And I suspect the Cardinals would be having more problems had they not re-signed veteran center Lyle Sendlein, a good player.

The 49ers and Seahawks also have issues at quarterback. Quarterbacks are largely responsible for sacks and beating pressure. To beat pressure, quarterbacks need instincts, a grasp of their schemes, game plans against blitzes and receivers they can trust. I doubt the 49ers and Seahawks could check off each of these boxes at this early stage.

Neither the 49ers nor Seahawks has a player it considers to be a long-term answer at quarterback. We know this because Tarvaris Jackson and Alex Smith are working on short-term contracts paying them less than what good starting quarterbacks earn. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. is calling Jackson the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. He wouldn't even want Jackson as his backup.

I would not expect Jackson or Smith to suddenly handle pressure as well as the best quarterbacks handle pressure, particularly only 23 days after their first practices of the summer.

We should also take into account how the 49ers' and Seahawks' offensive schemes might be affecting things in the passing game especially. Both teams are running West Coast offenses. The West Coast offenses I covered during Mike Holmgren's run as Seahawks coach sometimes had protection issues during preseason in particular. I cannot prove this. It is only my general feeling. In general, I think West Coast offenses tend to focus more on their own execution and less on what opponents are doing. So, when the execution is not yet refined to a minimum standard, the product looks even worse than it should. Again, that is just my feel, not something I could diagram on a whiteboard.

The talent on these offensive lines -- specifically, where that talent stands in its development -- is another factor. The Seahawks' rookie right tackle, James Carpenter, projects as a road grader in the running game, not as an elite pass protector. He's having issues in protection. He wasn't in the best condition when he reported to camp. The lockout hasn't helped him or some of the other young players on these lines, including Seahawks rookie right guard John Moffitt.

It's fair to say Seahawks center Max Unger is getting his bearings after missing nearly all of last season. The Seahawks were projecting when they made him their starting center without Unger winning the job. At left guard, free-agent addition Robert Gallery still projects as an upgrade for Seattle, but he has struggled some. And Okung remains out.

For the 49ers, left tackle Joe Staley has always had a tougher time with power rushers. Mike Iupati's inexperience at left guard sometimes shows, although he's a top-tier talent and an asset overall. The center position remains unsettled. Jonathan Goodwin and Adam Snyder have shared reps there. Coach Jim Harbaugh pointed to technique, fundamentals, getting beaten to the punch and playing with poor pad level as issues against Houston on Saturday night. He said the team needs to do a better job coaching and understanding in these areas.

The 49ers' line, like the Seahawks' line, struggled Saturday night. Harbaugh, speaking to reporters during a conference call Sunday afternoon, said his line's struggles had nothing to do with what the Houston Texans were presenting schematically. But he admitted that the line had problems.

"When that is happening, you have to look at all three phases of what you are doing," Harbaugh said. "What you are doing scheme-wise, how you are doing it and who is doing it. Those are the only three things you (can consider)."