Left guard Mike Iupati (77) provides protection for quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 49ers' NFC divisional playoff win against the Packers on Jan. 12. / Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The same five offensive linemen have started every game this season for the San Francisco 49ers. That's rare in the NFL, and center Jonathan Goodwin is counting on that cohesion to help the 49ers communicate Sunday at the noisy Georgia Dome.
"We have been together all season and everybody knows what we need to look for in certain situations. So I think we don't have to say as much or communicate as much. Everybody sees something, and everybody is on the same page,'' Goodwin says in advance of Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons.
"We've played in some domes this year and played on turf. It's going to be a challenge, but we know what to expect. We get to play in a place like Seattle, so we know how to deal with crowd noise. It won't be an easy task. But it's one that if we go out and execute, we can get the job done.''
The 49ers were one of three NFL teams to use the same starting five on the offensive line for every game this season. The others were the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets. The injury-riddled Pittsburgh Steelers used seven combinations after using nine in 2011.
In San Francisco's 45-31 win vs. the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, the offensive line dominated as the 49ers piled 323 yards rushing and 263 passing. Quarterback's Colin Kaepernick 181 rushing yards on scramble and option runs added some trickery, but the 49ers' basic blocking also helped Frank Gore run for 119 yards.
"Those guys really deserve a lot of credit up front," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "They've been healthy. They've played through nicks. Toughness is a talent. Just like running ability for a quarterback."
It is a relatively young bunch. Goodwin is in his 11th season, but left guard Mike Iupati, right guard Alex Boone and right tackle Anthony Davis are all in their third seasons. Left tackle Joe Staley is in his sixth.
"It's a rough sport, a physical sport, and to have five guys stay healthy, it is rare in this league," Goodwin said. "And hats off to even our strength coach (Mark Uyeyama). He does a great job with us. He listens to what we tell him about how our bodies are feeling."
There is good luck involved, too.
"Yeah, absolutely,'' said Boone, the newcomer to the starting line this season. "But I also think it just says how tough everybody is. The one thing I've noticed about this offensive line is everybody is held accountable. The guys you play with, they want you in there.
"Sometimes, you get banged up, and you hear somebody out there say, 'Hey, c'mon now. We need you now. This is it. We've got to go.' ''
There are times when Kaepernick keeps the ball on the read-option and Boone is making blocks for a runner who doesn't have the ball.
"Sometimes I think Frank (Gore) does have the ball because everyone is chasing Frank. So I'm chasing Frank, and I kind of feel a little weird chasing Frank because Kap's got the ball on the other side," Boone said.
But the 49ers also rely on traditional runs, and Boone takes pride in the offensive line's reputation as a unit with old-school physicality.
Boone is the tallest and lightest of the bunch at 6-8, 300. The numbers of the rest: Staley (6-5, 315), Iupati (6-5, 331), Goodwin (6-3, 318) and Davis (6-5, 323).
"I think the game has evolved so much that people forget what an offensive line was supposed to be," Boone said. You want to be the road graders. You want to be the nasty group. And for people to say that about us, it's awesome, and it's an honor. But now we've got to keep on and keep doing it."
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