Elijah Mitchell will be 49ers golden ticket to NFL playoffs

Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

Without Elijah Mitchell, the 49ers have lacked consistency. But with him finally healthy, the Niners will ride Mitchell right into the playoffs.

The story of the 2021 San Francisco 49ers has mostly been a disappointment. But loyal readers, looking for renewed faith, can look no further than the return of rookie running back Elijah Mitchell.

With two games left in the regular season and the team clinging to a Wild Card slot, Mitchell will be the reason the Niners can regain some consistency and be more than just pushovers in the playoffs.

With quarterback Trey Lance set to start his second career game for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco will delightfully welcome back the rookie running back. Mitchell has missed the last three games with concussion/knee problems, but indications are he is healthy enough to play on Sunday against the Houston Texans.

Regaining their leading rusher will allow the 49ers to get back to basics. It is no secret the Niners want to run the ball down the throats of every team they play.

Easier said than done, when injuries have hit the team so hard, they have had four different running backs start games this year.

Mitchell is by far the most talented running back on the team. With his 4.3 40-time speed, vision, and shiftiness, Mitchell gives the offense one more dynamic playmaker that the opposition has to contend with. Jeff WIlson Jr. can then be used in a more suitable role, as a tough-nosed runner, capable of coming in the game late and finishing off tired defenses.

Gaining Mitchell back aids the 49ers in their goal of dominating time of possession by pounding the rock several different ways. Coach Kyle Shanahan, with his bag of tricks, can sprinkle in some misdirection plays, a couple of Lance quarterback keepers, or even let wide receiver Deebo Samuel line up in the backfield for a few carries.

The Texans, if they are smart, will stack the box and make Lance prove he can beat them with his arm. With limited snaps, there is no telling how the young quarterback will perform.

Having Mitchell back in the fold will calm things down and provide a security blanket for the quarterback and for Shanahan.

A strong running game with Elijah Mitchell will hide 49ers shortcomings

It is no secret the 49ers have glaring weaknesses, but some of them can be camouflaged with a strong ground game. Keeping the opposing offenses off the field, whether it be the Texans or the Los Angeles Rams in the season finale, will be key.

Frankly, the Niners have not shown the ability to slow down opposing passing attacks consistently. The porous play of the cornerbacks should keep a salacious smile on the face of every wide receiver who lines up against them. The special teams’ play has been equally bad, which has put enormous pressure on the offensive and defensive units.

Read More: Ambry Thomas will be key for 49ers beating Texans, Rams

If Lance starts the remainder of the year or if Garoppolo comes back, emphasizing the running game should limit some of the demoralizing interceptions thrown this season. Neither QB should try and carry the team or be asked to do too much. Most teams want a balanced offense, but this team wants to run the ball until it has been stopped. Teams that have 8-7 records usually have struggle spots, and staying true to the team identity is important to cover up these deficiencies.

The only negative with Elijah Mitchell this year has been his durability. Whether it is bad luck or just the life of an NFL running back, Mitchell has been banged up for most of the season. He has already missed six games this year, and with the number of close games the 49ers have played in, their record might have a few more wins, had he been available.

Time for all 49ers stars, including Elijah Mitchell, to shine

If it turns out Mitchell is injury prone, that will be handled later in his career. Right now, the Niners are staring down a playoff spot and need all of their stars to perform to their best abilities without limitations. Samuel has lined up in the backfield so often, people are calling him more of a hybrid than a true receiver. Samuel is a Pro Bowl wide receiver who can line up as a tailback but should not be leading the team in carries, as he did against the Jacksonville Jaguars, with Mitchell out.

Rotating running backs like musical chairs is not something the 49ers have to do anymore. They have an every-down back, a bell cow, who can run until he needs a breather.

Mitchell looks to be an incredible steal, being drafted in the sixth round. While most expected Trey Sermon to be the rookie running back with the most to gain, Mitchell has earned his opportunities and finds himself in a pivotal role.

The Niners have enough talent to pull off an upset in the playoffs if they can get there without tripping themselves up. Honestly, even with Lance starting his second game in Week 17, San Francisco should not lose to this Texans team.

Next week, the Rams may be resting players, and even so, the 49ers have had their number so often, the playoffs should be expected for this team.

Controlling your own destiny can be a beautiful thing, as long as you stick to the game plan. The 49ers need to stick to the running game, led by Elijah Mitchell. Ride him as far as his legs can take them. There is still time left in the season to make the story of the 2021 San Francisco 49ers a memorable one.

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