In the 49ers’ scheme, Matt Breida doesn’t run the ball as often as most of the league’s top backs.
After five games, Breida has just 49 carries. Yet when he does get it, he’s as explosive as any running back in the NFL. In fact, the second-year former undrafted free agent is averaging 7.5 yards per carry. That leads the league. He’s had a league-leading six runs of 20 or more yards, including a long of 66.
And, in Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Breida was terrific until he suffered an ankle injury in the first half and couldn’t return. He had 56 yards rushing on just eight carries, including two bursts for 17 yards each. With Breida in the game, so were the 49ers.
But after Breida left, so did San Francisco’s running game. Alfred Morris and Raheem Mostert averaged just 3.1 yards on their combined 23 rushes.
Now, Breida’s status for next Monday night’s game against the Packers in Green Bay is in doubt. Breida is set to have an MRI Monday on the ankle, which appears to have suffered a high sprain. Such an injury could keep Breida out multiple weeks if the 49ers hope to get him enough rest so he can come back healthy and fit to be as effective over the long haul of 2018.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan has lauded Breida for his work ethic and toughness. Though he’s not big at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Breida is fearless. He worked with trainers on the sideline Sunday and warmed up, hoping to return, but couldn’t.
“If Breida can’t go back in the game, then no one can go back in the game because he works as hard as anyone at that,” Shanahan told the Sacramento Bee’s Chris Biderman. “He’s been one of our better players and obviously when he’s not in there, it’s definitely not easier.”
Breida also has been effective as a receiver. In Sunday’s matchup with Arizona, he caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from C.J. Beathard that gave his team an early lead, and he has 11 catches for 90 yards this season.
Breida’s absence against the Packers would be big. It especially hurts because the team is losing so many of its key offensive playmakers. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and No. 1 running back Jerick McKinnon are out for the season, and the team’s top three wide receivers – Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis have been hurt. Garcon was injured early Sunday vs. the Cardinals (but was able to return), while Goodwin and Pettis didn’t play at all Sunday and could miss more time, too.
The 49ers, now 1-4, are set for a 5:15 p.m. kickoff next Monday in Green Bay against the 2-2-1 Packers.