Five weeks into the NFL regular season, and the San Francisco 49ers sit atop the leader board in rushing yards after a superb start to 2019.
The San Francisco 49ers couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for their 2019 NFL season campaign. At 4-0, the Niners are the only remaining undefeated team in the entire NFC.
Something not many people would have thought likely heading into the season.
While there are many facets which can be attributed to the 49ers’ perfect record, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s running game and the men behind it are largely to thank. After the Niners’ Week 5 trouncing of the Cleveland Browns, they are ranked first overall across the league in rushing yards, averaging an astonishing 200.0 rushing yards per game.
The 49ers rushed for an astonishing 275 yards during the demolition of the Browns, with running back Matt Breida coming away with 114 rushing yards from 11 attempts, averaging 10.4 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown.
So far, Shanahan’s rushing scheme has been almost unstoppable. While the 49ers are ranked first in rushing yards, they are ranked further down the list at No. 22 in passing yards, showing just how much of an emphasis the head coach is placing on the run game.
And, with the success they have so far enjoyed while destroying teams keeping the ball on the ground, can you really blame Shanahan for the continued use of his running backs.
The effectiveness of the 49ers running back group has been accomplished not only by the sheer skill of the backs themselves, but also by the tremendous efforts of their teammates. The offensive line is off to a fantastic start, providing ample opportunities for the backs to weave their way through the line.
Center Weston Richburg has improved dramatically from 2018, while rookie Justin Skule has displayed little difficulty in taking on the role of left tackle after the sidelining of tackle Joe Staley post a fibula fracture. There’s some concern how well Daniel Brunskill will fill in for the injured right tackle, Mike McGlinchey. But the upside is still hopeful.
The tight ends and wide receivers have also played their part in the success the running backs have had, with big blocks opening up lanes on the outside for the backs to dart through and make ample progress down the field.
A chief contributor and every running back’s best friend has been fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who has been phenomenal with his blocking game this season. Unfortunately, Juszczyk will be out of action for the next four to six weeks after suffering an MCL sprain during Monday night’s win.
While the injury to Juszczyk will likely hamper the 49ers’ run game somewhat, in the short term, theyit will still be an effective unit.
Breida has been the standout this season. He leads the 49ers in rushing with 340 yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He again has the record for fastest ball carrier, after being clocked at 22.3 MPH during his 83-yard rushing touchdown on Monday night:
Running back Raheem Mostert has continued his emergence after recovering from a fractured arm in 2018, enjoying increased game time while fellow running back Tevin Coleman recovered from an ankle injury.
Mostert has so far amassed 236 rushing yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and has been an effective backup to both Breida and Coleman.
Monday night saw the return of Coleman, who finished just shy of 100 rushing yards for the game. He did, however, come away with his first touchdown for the 49ers. Pegged as the potential starter over Breida at the commencement of the season, Coleman had to take a step back while rehabbing his ankle.
However, if his performance against the Browns is anything to go by, Coleman is back to full strength and ready to continue making the impact he showed prior to his injury.
The man who leads all his fellow backs in touchdowns is Jeff Wilson, who was placed on the inactive list upon the return of Coleman. Used primarily as the 49ers’ short yardage or goal line back, Wilson has had a successful start to his 2019 season, albeit not seeing as much game time as he would probably like.
With the success the Niners are having with their current group of players, running back Jerick McKinnon is one player who may see himself on the outside for 2020. After being placed on injured reserve for two seasons in a row, the 49ers may indeed look to cut ties with McKinnon.
Both Breida and Coleman have developed an effective pass catching game, something McKinnon was originally signed for. And, with $2.6 million of his 2020 salary set to become fully guaranteed on April 1 next year, is he someone the 49ers really need to keep around anymore?
In his post-game presser, Shanahan touched on the importance of his running game and the trust he has for his defense to get the job done.
“It’s something you always want to do as a coach,” Shanahan said. “It’s the easiest way to win when you play real good defense and you can run the ball. It takes the pressure off a lot of people and doesn’t put you in a lot of risky situations, but also can help you get some easier explosives too. There’s a matter of time that we’re going to have to throw more and when you do that, eventually you’ve got to come back and run it. In order to be what we want to be, we’ve got to be good at everything.”
If the 49ers’ running backs are able to stay injury free and keep up the production they have showed after Week 5, there is no reason why they shouldn’t finish the season ranked No. 1 in rushing, or pretty close to it.