McKivitz, 49ers' O-line bounce back vs. Rams, keep Donald at bay

McKivitz, 49ers' O-line bounce back vs. Rams, keep Donald at bay originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

After a tough challenge to start the 2023 NFL season in Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt, the 49ers' offensive line faced another future Hall of Fame defender in Week 2 on Sunday.

But the right side held its own against Aaron Donald, keeping the Los Angeles Rams star off the stat sheet in San Francisco's 30-23 victory at SoFi Stadium.

"We just commit everything to [Donald] because he ruins everything," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after the win. "I didn't realize it was like that stat sheet, but definitely didn't feel like that. I thought he defeated a number of blocks today. We were just able to get rid of it before he got there and run away from it."

In Week 1, first-time starter Colton McKivitz had a rough day at right tackle opposite Watt. Along with guard Spencer Burford, the right side of the line seemed to be the only glaring liability in the 49ers' dominant 30-7 win, as Watt walked away with three sacks on the day.

For the Rams, however, Donald was held to just one quarterback hurry against the 49ers and finished the game without a tackle -- and, most importantly, without a sack. The one-possession game could have looked a lot different for San Francisco had Donald produced the kind of pressure Watt did just one week prior.

Brock Purdy was sacked once Sunday by rookie Rams edge rusher Byron Young, who was able to chase down the 49ers quarterback near the line of scrimmage after the pocket collapsed.

But the second-year signal-caller liked what he saw from his offensive line and believes the group has grown leaps and bounds from last season, giving him enough time against the Rams to leave SoCal with a win.

"They've done a great job," Purdy told reporters after Sunday's victory. "All offseason, growing, watching film from last year where they could've gotten better. And at the end of the day, man, their mindset is where it needs to be. Like, they're dogs. The come to practice every single day ready to work, ready to grind days out and then we get into a game like this where it takes four quarters against guys like Aaron Donald, and they've got some good guys on the edge.

"To be able to know and hone in every single play what they're doing, credit to those guys, man. They've gotten a lot better. I'm excited to roll with them the rest of the year. And they gave me great time. There were multiple plays where I was able to go through reads and progressions and hit the No. 3 guy and stuff like that, so I thought they did a great job in pass [protection]."

Both McKivitz and Burford made great strides Sunday opposite the best defensive tackle in the NFL -- with some help from their fellow offensive stars, of course. There's an emphasis on receivers blocking in Shanahan's system, and Donald was held up on a critical third-down conversion from Purdy to Brandon Aiyuk in the first quarter when Jauan Jennings chipped in alongside McKivitz.

In his weekly conference call with Bay Area reporters Monday, Shanahan said the offensive line did a better job in pass protection this week but there's still "a lot to clean up."

In the eyes of Christian McCaffrey, who benefits from the offensive line in both the run and passing game, the best is yet to come for the group -- especially for left guard Aaron Banks, who helped create plenty of holes for the running back on Sunday.

"Unbelievable," McCaffrey said of Banks. "And he's only getting better, too, which is exciting. I think having a guy like Trent Williams in that room, he's able to give them so much wisdom and allow them to play fast. But Banks is a special football player. All those guys are."

The 49ers' Week 2 win was a grind, requiring every position group to give it their all for all four quarters against a hungry Rams team. But San Francisco won its ninth straight regular-season game against Los Angeles, and the offensive line playing to their potential was a big reason why.

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