The San Francisco 49ers rushing attack, so potent a weapon earlier this season, has run dry the past three weeks. But it will need to be back on point for the next three contests against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints.
In order for the San Francisco 49ers to stand as good a chance as possible to beat the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints between Weeks 12 through 14, respectively, they’ll need to run the ball exceptionally well.
This sounds about as cliche a football statement as possible. Running the ball well in any game is just about as important as scoring more points than the other team.
But in the Niners’ case against their next three upcoming opponents, it’s particularly truer than true.
At one point earlier this season, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s rushing offense was averaging 200 yards per game on the ground. Entering Week 12, San Francisco is averaging 149 rush yards per game.
As a whole, that’s pretty good. But when one contrasts the splits, laid out by our friend Al Sacco over at KNBR 680, it’s notably different when comparing the 49ers’ last three weeks against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals twice:
Cutting a little deeper into the struggles, running back Tevin Coleman has mustered just 23, 40 and 14 rush yards over that same three-game span, all matchups in which he started. Fellow running back Matt Breida, who has been banged up with an ankle injury the past 1.5 games, also has had pedestrian numbers since his 114-yard game against the Cleveland Browns back in Week 5.
So, what’s up for San Francisco’s ground game as of late?
The Cardinals and Seahawks made it a point to stack the box against the run, often putting seven or eight defenders up front and forcing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to beat the defense with his arm.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan, too, admitted the Niners got away from the run in their Week 11 win over the Cardinals, saying, “I think that was the first game that we really had to get away from the run or made the decision to get away from the run. It ended up working out for us.”
It might have worked against Arizona. But it probably won’t work out too well against the teams San Francisco will face over the next three weeks.
The quarterbacks the 49ers must contend with between Weeks 12 and 14 need no fluffy introduction: the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and the Saints’ Drew Brees — players whose teams have just two losses apiece this deep into the season.
Rodgers and Brees are shoo-in Hall of Famers, while Jackson is a top contender for the league’s MVP award this season. And as far as scoring offenses go, the Ravens are first with the Packers ninth. The Saints, meanwhile, are 14th which includes Brees missing five starts.
Interestingly enough, the Niners are ranked third overall in scoring. But one has to factor in the team’s offensive success on the ground earlier in the season.
And as the old adage for football goes, the best way to stop an opponents’ high-powered offense is to not let it on the field. Keeping it off the field is best done via a strong running game, maintaining possession and chewing up clock.
So, by looking at the splits and contrasting how well San Francisco was moving the ball on the ground earlier this season, compared to the efforts here over the last three games, one can only hope players like Coleman, Breida and the entirety of the 49ers rushing offense is going through a dry spell.
And not through what’s a sign of weeks to come.