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Is it time to worry about the 49ers running game?

Bobby Horne
Aug 24, 2018 at 1:31 PM


We are two weeks into the San Francisco 49ers' 2018 preseason and they currently have the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 421 yards per game.

Sure it's just preseason and stats in the preseason are meaningless but it's still something. Although things seem to be all good on offense by those numbers, the 49ers' rushing attack has been abysmal, accounting for only 182 yards on 53 carries. A 3.4 yards per carry average is not going to cut it in the NFL, even if it is just the preseason.

In both games the running backs have looked lost from top to bottom. Is it officially time to hit the panic button on the 49ers' rushing attack?

I wouldn't say so just yet. One thing that most people agree on is that running backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida are going to be getting the bulk of the work in the regular season. In the preseason they have collectively accounted for four carries. Both appeared in the first game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Breida did leave the Cowboys game with a shoulder injury and McKinnon injured his leg in practice, keeping them both out of the second preseason game. Since then it has been reported that McKinnon will sit the rest of the preseason and be ready for Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings.


In the game in which they both appeared, however, they also did not look good. McKinnon ran for negative yards and Breida had one carry. However, I'm not going to say the 49ers' running game is doomed based on four carries in a preseason game.

There is so much more that goes into what makes a running game work. In most cases a successful rushing attack takes the entire contest to flesh itself out. Can the running backs maintain their style through the fourth quarter when it matters most? Teams will make adjustments throughout the game that could benefit a rushing attack. There just isn't enough evidence to say that the 49ers' running game is of concern at the moment.

Now what is concerning are the injuries that both McKinnon and Breida have sustained. If that becomes a trend during the regular season then the 49ers will have a legitimate concern. That possibility is why I believe they brought in free agent running back Alfred Morris.

Morris is a change of pace RB compared to the rest of the roster who is a bruiser and can be a great short yardage RB. He can fill in when the 49ers need to gain some hard yards and his body is built to take a bit more punishment than that of McKinnon or Breida. This could alleviate some of the hits that they would be taking.

We as fans also have to understand that the 49ers' rushing attack is not going to be "traditional" in any sense. Make no mistake, the RBs in head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense are going to be heavily utilized and catch a lot of footballs. But don't expect to see many 100+ yard rushing stat lines with these RBs.

The more important stat to focus on will be "all purpose yards". A more common line we might see this year may be something like this:

Jerick McKinnon: 14 carries, 53 yards / 8 receptions, 62 yards, 1 TD
Matt Breida: 12 carries, 41 yards / 5 receptions, 46 yards

Someone just glancing at the box score on Monday might say, "the 49ers couldn't even break 100 yards rushing with two RBs."

But if you take it all into account, that's 202 yards on 39 touches which comes out to 5.1 yards per touch. That's a solid day by the RBs if you ask me. Now you can start to see how this doesn't fall into "traditional" standards. That's the genius of Kyle Shanahan.

With such a small sample size from the starters and the offense not showing all of its cards in the preseason, there is no reason to panic just yet. If this trend continues through the regular season then it's a different story. Until then, pause the concern.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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