3 ways 49ers end up beating Colts on Sunday Night Football
By Peter Panacy
No. 2: 49ers must run away from Darius Leonard
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. But Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard has an elite-level 90.2 run-defense grade this season from Pro Football Focus. He’s a big reason why the Colts are allowing just 4.1 yards per rush this season, good for 11th best.
One of the noticeably troubling frustrations with Kyle Shanahan’s ground attack this season, one which is only averaging 4.2 yards per carry despite flashes from rookie tailback Elijah Mitchell, is how frequently many of the inside runs have been between the tackles. Of 91 total rushes by a running back this season, 32 have come at the A-gap on either side of center Alex Mack. According to Sharp Football Stats, the 49ers are averaging only 3.8 yards per carry on such attempts.
In contrast runs to the left side of the formation outside the tackle box, which have happened with tailbacks just 13 times this season, are generating 5.2 yards per carry. On the flip side, 16 times, the average gain is 4.9 yards.
Mitchell, Trey Sermon or whoever is carrying the load on the ground in Week 7 needs to get back to Shanahan’s basics from the outside-zone rushing scheme. While in-between-the-tackles runs have their merits, including wearing down the defense and opening up more explosive plays elsewhere, the 49ers rushing offense has been its most potent when it gets out into open space.
Considering the weather factor, going back to this staple should be a high priority for Shanahan and the ground game.