Opponents of the 49ers in recent weeks have used a new formula against them, loading up extra defenders close to the line of scrimmage to stop what had been the NFL’s best running attack.
That formula has worked, in limiting the 49ers to 3.3 yards per carry, 3.2 yards per carry and 1.9 yards-per carry in the past three games.
Still, the 49ers have won two of the three, falling only to the Seahawks in overtime. Thanks to some big defensive stands and the passing of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco continues to win.
Yet as the 9-1 49ers head into their Sunday night game against the 8-2 Packers, they’ll need to regain their effectiveness on the ground to re-establish their balance and control the clock, game tempo and take the pressure off Garoppolo as they head into the season’s toughest three-game stretch against the Packers, Ravens and Saints.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan says he’s not overly concerned, and that the 49ers have just missed breaking some long runs over the past three games. He told Eric Ting of the San Francisco Chronicle that even in the 49ers’ worst rushing game of the season, a win over Arizona this past weekend (19 total carries for only 34 yards), there were opportunities that just didn’t evolve.
"When we had our few opportunities at a long one, they ended up being about a 2-yard gain," Shanahan told Ting. "We just had one guy that didn’t get blocked or we just got tripped up."
Of course, the 49ers also miss running back Matt Breida. Breida suffered an ankle injury in the Nov. 11 loss to the Seahawks, carrying just 10 times, and missed the Cardinals game. He’s had two 100-yard games in 2019 and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The 49ers also have been missing tight end George Kittle, a terrific run-blocker. Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley also is out with a broken finger.
Getting Breida and Kittle back will be a big assist to get the running game back on track, but it’s uncertain if either will play Sunday night. Both missed practice Wednesday, and Shanahan doesn’t know when they’ll be ready to return. Staley is likely out a while longer.
Sunday’s game at Levi’s Stadium is set for kickoff at 5:20.