The San Francisco 49ers reverted back to a run-heavy offense in their divisional-round victory over the Minnesota Vikings. It proved to be the biggest X-factor.
Both the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings wanted to establish the run and make it dominant during Saturday’s NFC divisional-round contest at Levi’s Stadium. It was a sensible approach for both head coaches: Mike Zimmer and Kyle Shanahan.
After all, both the Niners’ and Vikings’ offenses are built around the run. Yet, only the 49ers were successful in this regard.
San Francisco managed 47 rush attempts in total during the 27-10 win, which propelled Shanahan’s squad into the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. With those attempts, the Niners were able to manage 186 total rush yards on the ground.
That’s good for an average of 4.0 yards per carry.
“We thought the team that got over 30 runs would win this game,” Shanahan told reporters afterwards. “We truly looked at that as a team goal. We ended up getting 47 on offense. It’s a lot easier to do when the other team goes 2-of-12 on third down.”
Minnesota, meanwhile, rushed for only 21 yards on 10 attempts.
In the battle between running backs, Tevin Coleman and Dalvin Cook, the former got the last laugh—and then some. Coleman finished the day with 105 rush yards and two touchdowns, emerging as a massive offensive force after seeing his numbers diminish during the latter half of the regular season.
“Glad he got his opportunities today,” Shanahan added of Coleman. “He came through big for us.”
Per Sharp, the 49ers led the league in plays stemming from this formation:
This gets one of the best lead blockers in the game, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, into a prominent role. And given Sharp’s breakdown of the Vikings’ defensive struggles against runs from 21-personnel, it made sense Shanahan would employ this over the course of the game.
You can see a number of Coleman’s successful runs in 21-personnel from the game in the video below:
Coleman’s success on the ground, combined with Shanahan’s insistence on sticking with the rushing attack, had two profound effects on Minnesota’s defense. For starters, the 49ers ended up dominating the time-of-possession battle.
San Francisco held the ball on offense for 38:27 of clock time, nearly double that of the Vikings’ 21:33. In turn, Minnesota’s defense was noticeably worn down in the second half. This gave way to the Niners picking up even more chunk yards.
And on one drive, the 49ers never passed the ball, electing to run it eight straight times.
“There was one drive where we literally didn’t pass the ball,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “Came off to the sideline, it was as excited as we’ve ever been, offensively. When you can do that to a team, it makes it tough on defenses … We ran the hell out of the ball.”
Now, Shanahan and Coleman will look to continue their strong rushing attack in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
According to Football Outsiders, the Packers own the No. 23-ranked run defense, playing right into San Francisco’s run-first attack.