The Run Game
San Francisco did not get the run game going for most of Week 1. Facing a rather unfortunate situation with the loss of No. 1 running back Jerick McKinnon (ACL), there wasn’t much reason to expect anything else anyway.
Still, you would rather hope it wasn’t going to be plays like this:
Yeah, that was not a good play.
Overall, the 49ers did not manage to run the ball very well, finishing with 90 yards on a not-so-productive 3.6 yards per carry. Second-year pro Matt Breida was the most “consistent” back, finishing with 46 yards on 11 carries, while the veteran, Alfred Morris, struggled a big more than that.
A lot of it had to do with the defense the Vikings had, which finished second last year against the run and added defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to their formidable defensive line. Still, the Niners managed to get some good running holes.
There aren’t a lot of clips to show of the 49ers running game, because when you don’t really do it well, it doesn’t go on highlight reels. Still, there is plenty to analyze from the Jets and Lions game, given the lopsided rushing yards.
Look at this first rushing touchdown by the Jets:
If you look closely, you’ll see how the right side of the line is completely free for Jets tailback Isaiah Crowell to run through. That’s because of a missed gap by the Lions. The offensive line manages to wall off the Lions’ front to the left, freeing this gaping hole for Crowell to run through unopposed before reaching the second level.
This is something the 49ers weren’t doing with much success against the Vikings. If you see the fumble by Morris again, you’ll realize that the Vikings line managed to push back, forcing Morris to have to heave for extra yards, causing the fumble.
The circumstances are different, of course. The Vikings had only one yard to deal with, while the Lions had to work with a 1st-and-goal at the 6-yard line. However, the Lions were middle of the pack last year when it came to rushing yards, allowing 112.5 yards per game on a 4.2 YPC. With the loss of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, one of the premier run stuffers in the NFL, that number would have only gotten worse, and it did.
Let’s move on to the second touchdown for Crowell. This was of the 60-plus-yards variety:
For starters, there was a missed tackle at the line of scrimmage, which would have ended this play, but expecting a defensive tackle to hit a sprinting running back mid-stride is a bit much.
Rather, this is a key problem with the Lions that we saw earlier. There is no gap integrity.
Again, Crowell had a wide-open gap to run through. The MIKE linebacker (middle linebacker) hits the gap right next to the one that Crowell ran through, which leads me to think that No. 97, Ricky Jean-Francois, misplayed it. However, he wasn’t lined up at his gap, which would indicate either some sort of deceptive front to confuse the Jets, a poor job by the MIKE or Jean-Francois or a poorly-designed play call.
Either way, the point remains. If the Lions have no gap integrity, the 49ers should be able to run all over this team.
In the zone-blocking scheme the 49ers run, the main goal of the offensive line is to create holes by reaching spots before defensive linemen and creating multiple options for a running back, very similar to the play we saw above. In fact, the Jets offensive coordinator is a Kyle Shanahan disciple (h/t Gang Green Nation), which means that the running scheme will be based off the same concepts.
However, the real reason the 49ers are considered a potential playoff team is because of their passing ability.