49ers' re-imagined O-line plays to mixed reviews

Blaine Gabbert saw better protection against the Bengals than he did the previous week, when the Browns sacked him nine times. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A week after Blaine Gabbert was sacked nine times by the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback was taken down a relatively few four times by the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

The 49ers lost both games, but there was surely improvement in their protection of the QB, no?

“Our offensive line is doing a tremendous job,” Gabbert insisted after completing a career-best 30 passes on a career-high 50 attempts for 295 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“They gave me a ton of time today. That’s an extremely talented defensive front seven that we faced and they played their tails off from the get-go. I appreciate every one of those guys ... there’s nothing bad I can say about them. They played their tails off.”

Perhaps most impressive, then, was the fact that the offensive line was re-imagined from the week prior due to injury. Then it had to be re-shuffled mid-game against the Bengals -- also due to injury.

With left guard Alex Boone out nursing a right knee injury, Andrew Tiller started at left guard. Daniel Kilgore made his first start at center since he broke his lower left leg at the Denver Broncos on Oct. 19, 2014, and Marcus Martin, who started the first 13 games this season at center, moved to right guard.

That was the lineup until Martin suffered a concussion in the second half of Sunday's game. Then right tackle Erik Pears slid inside to right guard and rookie seventh-round draft pick Trent Brown came in at right tackle.

According to Pro Football Focus, Brown earned a +2.4 overall grade, +2.2 for pass blocking, in allowing one hurry in 33 pass snaps.

“Trent, there were some things that he did that were really good,” Niners coach Jim Tomsula said. “We’ve still got to keep cleaning up when things change in front of us. There’s some, when the games and the blitzes and things like that, we’re still in that process of getting that cleaned up.

“But, he is progressing really well and I thought he did a nice job.”

He was not the only one. Left tackle Joe Staley was given a grade of +2.9.

But the middle of the O-line had issues -- lots of issues.

Tiller was given a -3.2 grade while Kilgore had a -1.0. Martin’s -2.6 grade was compounded by his concussion.

Tomsula did say the offensive line needed to give Gabbert more time, and his average target of just 6.0 yards downfield, per PFF, was his smallest number in six starts.