SF 49ers miss Raheem Mostert, rush offense now a weakness
By Peter Panacy
The SF 49ers, owners of the No. 2 rushing offense a year ago, have struggled mightily to move the ball on the ground in recent weeks.
The SF 49ers need to get running back Raheem Mostert back on the field.
And they need a number of other elements to work out between now and the end of the season, too, if they want to get on track with their ground attack again.
Running the ball is a staple of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. One might recall how the Niners finished with the league’s No. 2 rushing offense in 2019, second only to the Baltimore Ravens who boasted an elite rushing quarterback, Lamar Jackson, meaning San Francisco was arguably the most potent team when it came to pure running backs rushing the ball.
Just over the halfway mark of the season and on the tail of the SF 49ers’ Week 10 road loss to the New Orleans Saints, running the ball is no longer the same strength that carried Shanahan’s squad all the way through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl.
In fact, the last three games have revealed just how lackluster the Niners rushing efforts have been as of late:
|8||Sun||November 1||boxscore||L||4-4||@||Seattle Seahawks||27||37||24||351||299||52||2|
|9||Thu||November 5||boxscore||L||4-5||Green Bay Packers||17||34||17||337||282||55||2|
|10||Sun||November 15||boxscore||L||4-6||@||New Orleans Saints||13||27||21||281||232||49||4|
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
The total combined rushing yards from the past three weeks have netted 156 yards. That’s less than the 197 rush yards San Francisco had in its Week 7 road bout against the New England Patriots alone when running back Jeff Wilson had himself a career-best game.
But Wilson is out with an ankle injury now, while Mostert is still working his way back from a knee injury.
And the SF 49ers have averaged 2.4 yards per carry in those three games since the New England outbreak.
There are a few factors at play here when trying to figure out how Shanahan’s rushing attack went from one of the league’s most potent to almost laughable in recent weeks. Injuries have played a key role, yes, but there’s more beyond it than that.
- Patchwork offensive line hasn’t been effective in run blocking, ranked 18th in this category entering Week 10, per Football Outsiders.
- Opposing defenses are cheating against the run with eight-man boxes, daring backup quarterback Nick Mullens to throw the ball.
- Jerick McKinnon, the No. 3 running back on the roster in Week 1, has been asked to serve as the ground game’s bell cow.
- Injury attrition can’t be understated
McKinnon has received plenty of flak, particularly for not being effective enough in Week 10 against the Saints, and deservedly so. He averaged 1.8 yards per carry in that game and is averaging a mere 3.8 yards per carry on the season, a stat largely skewed towards some chunk plays early in the year.
But the big question remains: Will San Francisco’s ground attack improve during the final stretch?
SF 49ers need to get Raheem Mostert back on the field
Perhaps Mostert was justified asking for some kind of pay increase last offseason. Those thinking the SF 49ers would be just fine without him are seeing why his presence to the offense is so important.
Mostert alone won’t help the Niners’ O-line woes, and he can’t do much about Mullens, or whoever is under center, being able to throw deep to soften up defenses underneath. But it’s pretty evident Mostert’s burst and acceleration are combined X-factors missing from Shanahan’s offensive game plan.
That burst is something neither McKinnon or another SF 49ers banged-up running back, Tevin Coleman, have.
Opponents have still gone to great efforts taking away Shanahan’s rush offense the last three weeks, even knowing players like McKinnon haven’t been overly effective this season, mainly due to the fact they know Shanahan will still rely heavily on it. His play-action, bootleg-style is reliant upon an established rush attack.
Taking away one has made the other far less effective, too.
If there’s good news with all of this, the SF 49ers will enjoy their bye week in Week 11, getting an extra week for Mostert, Coleman and perhaps even Wilson back from their respective injuries in time for a crucial Week 12 road matchup against the Los Angeles Rams that may determine the Niners’ final chances for a playoff berth this season. The break will also give McKinnon some time to rest and heal up, too, as it’s pretty evident now he’s not intended to be a regularly used tailback.
It might still be too little, too late with regards to salvaging the entire offense and the season in general.
But at least Mostert’s presence makes San Francisco’s offense much more potent and threatening.