Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Prior to the first game against the Cardinals on Halloween, the 49ers were averaging over 180 yards rushing per game. Over the last three weeks they have been averaging only 74 yards per game. In the beginning of the season they were averaging almost 40 rushing attempts. Over the last three games, only 25. Kyle Shanahan almost completely went away from the running game in the last game against the Cardinals.
If you watched the Monday night game when Kyle Juszczyk went down with his knee injury, you would have thought the 49ers offense was done, by listening to MNF commentator Booger McFarland. Anyways his analysis sucks and the 49ers offense were still able to move the ball on the ground without Juszczyk.
Skip ahead to Halloween. On the first offense play of the game, THE best tight end in the league, George Kittle, suffered a knee injury. He left and would later come back but was absent towards the end of the game. It was also the start of the decline of the 49ers running game. In both games against the Cardinals games, and against the Seahawks, they dared Jimmy Garoppolo to beat them by going all out to stopping the run. It worked for Seahawks and almost worked twice for the Cardinals.
Juszczyk is an amazing player and worth every penny the 49ers threw at him. But since Kittle has been out of the lineup the running game hasn’t been the same. Can the 49ers go back to their running ways? Teams do have a blueprint in beating the 49ers. Stop the run, force Garoppolo to beat you and hope you get an interception or two.
But does that blueprint work if Kittle is in the lineup?
The 49ers’ running game took a hit the past three games and I don’t think it’s completely on opponents stacking the box, either. Ross Dwelley has done fine in Kittle’s absence, but he is not Kittle. He cannot stiff arm like Kittle, he cannot run like Kittle, and he cannot block like Kittle. The running game has suffered more because of Kittle’s absence, not on teams stacking the box.
Arizona and Seattle have not had the greatest defenses this season and yet the stopped one of the best running teams in the league and that’s because the 49ers did not have their best run blocker in the lineup. It’s not just Kittle’s running blocking either. Defenses must respect him in the passing game. When teams stack the box, they must keep an eye on Kittle and less on the running back. When Kittle returns to the lineup, I would look for the running game and offense to improve.
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