SF 49ers playoff push will start with Raheem Mostert

Raheem Mostert #31 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Raheem Mostert #31 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

If the SF 49ers hope to squeak back into the playoff hunt, Raheem Mostert will have to be a major reason why.

The SF 49ers aren’t a playoff team without their top running back, Raheem Mostert.

With Mostert in the fray, they could be.

At 4-6, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room for error. There can’t be any of the letdown losses like the ones the Niners experienced earlier this season, such as against the Philadelphia Eagles or New Orleans Saints.

Interestingly enough, Mostert missed both those games — part of the six he’s missed this season because of a knee injury suffered back in Week 6 against the Los Angeles Rams. Also interestingly enough, Mostert could return from that injury against the Rams when San Francisco returns from its bye week in Week 12.

Just how much have the SF 49ers missed Mostert during his absence? Well, there are a few figures to look at, particularly these numbers from Niners Nation’s Kyle Posey, particularly when compared to other runners like Jerick McKinnon:

"Here’s how the 49ers fared on the ground in those four games combined:DVOA: -2.5EPA per rush: 0.02Success rate: 43%Yards after contact: 5.9Yards per carry: 2.45Six games without Mostert:DVOA: -10.08EPA per rush: -.29Success rate: 36%Yards after contact: 2.36Yards per carry: 3.14On the season, Mostert has five carries over ten yards, which is second on the team to McKinnon’s eight. While McKinnon has carried the ball better than he’s been given credit for, Mostert’s explosiveness hides the offensive line’s struggles."

That’s one area in which the Niners have missed Mostert: explosiveness. NextGen Stats still lists Mostert as both the No. 1 and No. 2 fastest ball-carrier on the season with explosive runs of 23.09 and 22.73 miles per hour earlier this season. And while San Francisco’s offensive line has had issues run blocking this season, Mostert’s ability to hit that next-level gear at least forces opposing defenses to recognize and react accordingly.

Not crowd the line and dare the SF 49ers to throw, as they’ve been doing in recent weeks in light of Mostert’s absence and McKinnon getting the share of the workload.

And then there’s this from Niners Wire’s Kyle Madson:

Tack on an extra week from that Nov. 12 statement. McKinnon, having played in all 10 games thus far, has 294 rush yards and is averaging 3.8 yards per carry.

Mostert, having seen action in just four games, still leads the team with 303 rush yards and an average of 5.9 yards per attempt.

With quarterback Nick Mullens under center, San Francisco doesn’t have a prolific enough passing offense to make up for the lack of a ground game. As such, the results through the air the past three weeks — all losses — haven’t been great. The SF 49ers have averaged 20.3 points per game during that stretch, and many of those points have come during proverbial “garbage time” when the Niners were well on their way to another loss.

Getting Mostert back won’t automatically make San Francisco’s offense better. But it will take the pressure off Mullens, and it will make the O-line’s life much easier, too. After all, those second-level defenders will have to respect Mostert’s explosiveness and won’t be able to crowd the line of scrimmage as often as they were during his absence.

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With that as a backdrop, one can only wonder how the SF 49ers would have fared if Mostert had stayed healthy all season long.

He wasn’t healthy, though, meaning his return might be the last saving bit to any Niners playoff push this season.