SANTA CLARA -- John Madden's respect for offensive linemen traces back to his days as an offensive tackle. But the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach doesn't just focus on that spot.

Madden surveys how an entire line operates, a habit that's stuck 3½ years after he retired as the NFL's leading television analyst.

Right now, the 49ers line is the object of his affection.

"That's the thing that ties everything together," Madden said in a phone interview from his Carmel hideaway. "People can talk about the running back, the quarterback and the passing game. But their line is underrated."

One way to rate that unit: The 49ers (5-2) bring the league's No. 2-rated rushing attack into Monday night's game against the Arizona Cardinals (4-3).

One change was made to the 49ers' starting line this season: Converted tackle Alex Boone has flourished at right guard in place of Adam Snyder, who left in free agency to join a still-feeble Cardinals line.

Madden oversees a weekly award that recognizes quality offensive lines, and the 49ers have been honored twice in the past three weeks. Madden echoed coach Jim Harbaugh's description of how "physical" the 49ers played in a 13-6 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 18. The 49ers also won the Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award three weeks ago for a record-setting rout of the Buffalo Bills.

What especially wowed Madden this past outing was the 49ers' ability to bounce back against the Seahawks after enduring a pounding four days earlier against the New York Giants.

Said Madden: "Heck, (left tackle) Joe Staley was coming off a concussion and, to play in that physical of a game ... The whole line did a good job."

Staley and center Jonathan Goodwin earned game balls, and Harbaugh said he's never seen a team run better between the guards, those being Boone and Mike Iupati.

Before coming to the 49ers last season, Goodwin walked into the New Orleans Saints locker room one day and saw a massive, bronze trophy sitting on the floor. It was the inaugural Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award, won by the 2009 Saints.

Goodwin, who left the Saints last year to join the 49ers, is a driving reason why he might be seeing that trophy again. "He runs the ship and makes sure everyone is on the same page," quarterback Alex Smith said.

Added offensive coordinator Greg Roman: "Jon Goodwin's like the older brother, and then Boone is like the younger brother that just keeps pestering him. They've really got a lot of good things going in that room."

The offensive line's meetings before the Seahawks game were highlighted by Iupati's quick responses to game-plan quizzes. Iupati entered the league in 2010 with right tackle Anthony Davis as first-round draft picks, and they've started every game since then.

"You live with a guy as a rookie, and then it starts to pay rewards," Madden said while praising Iupati and Davis.

Although fullback Bruce Miller also has been a key blocker, Miller said: "The guys up front do a heck of job. Some holes, you could drive a truck through."

Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter have been the 49ers' haulers, and Madden was especially impressed by Gore's ability to rebound from a physical Giants game to persevere against the Seahawks despite suffering bruised ribs before halftime.

"What Gore did last Thursday night was amazing and he didn't get enough credit," Madden said. "The way he runs, it's like being in a car wreck. (Against New York), he was in a car wreck, then went to the hospital, came back and got in another car wreck."

  • Staley practiced a second straight day and said he has overcome a bout with pneumonia that set in right after the win over the Seahawks. He's listed as questionable to face Arizona.

  • Harbaugh said Smith threw the ball "very well" all week after not throwing for three days to rest the sprained middle finger on his throwing hand. He and Gore are listed as probable.

  • Team CEO Jed York and his wife, Danielle, became parents Saturday when she gave birth to a son, Jaxon Edward.

    For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers.