The 49ers’ run game is a complex and unorthodox beast to defend. Their full-team commitment to the run from before to the moment of hand-off is a pattern teams try to emulate. This is due to so many motions and factors in play before, during, and after the hand-off. If you’re looking for a sneaky NFL DFS strategy on the ground, the underdog 49ers may be a safe bet. They may not have the big names in the run game. But make no mistake about it, they run as if they do.
With all the focus on wide receivers, the 49ers’ ground attack has flown silently under the radar. San Francisco’s 8th ranked total rushing yards is not as eye-popping on paper as one would think. But it is impressive under the circumstances. Considering they’ve never truly had a consistent RB1 in the Shanahan era makes things interesting. Coupled with the fact that their RB1 has been injured since week 4, their rank is even more significant. It seems that regardless of who the go-to running back is, this ground attack is primed for success. Here is the secret to why the 49ers’ ground attack is so dangerous.
It’s not only the running backs that get involved in the run game. Wide Receivers and tight ends are persistently involved in the process. The offense is never afraid to use a player outside of their usual position. Deebo Samuel currently sits 2nd on the team in rushing yards with 240 with an average of 7.3 YPC. Even rookie Trey Lance, who has been used in a very limited capacity, has 137 yds on the ground. With all the tools San Francisco utilizes in the run game, you have to expect the unexpected.
This is where pre-snap motion factors into deceiving your opponent. The Niners activate pre-snap motion on a league-leading 72% of their plays this season. With the defense needing to respect the pass according to motion, holes are opened up in the run game. More specifically, many of these motions aren’t just baseless movements but intentionally designed to open up holes in the defense. If nothing else, that split-second hesitation from the defense is all an NFL rush attack needs to break free.
The 49ers’ commitment to blocking could make the most mediocre running backs look explosive. Notice the word commitment, not talent being used. Yes, talent is key for any team, but commitment is a full-team effort. With a full-team commitment to opening a path for the run game, anything is possible.
The 49ers have made a habit of utilizing deception in their run blockers. For San Francisco, it isn’t uncommon to see a wide receiver, tight end, or running back making a primary block upfront. Kudos to the coaches for instilling a dedicated mindset in their players for protecting the ball carrier.
Despite being unfairly victimized by experts and fans alike, Kyle Shanahan is the force that makes this run game dangerous. Without having an elite running back throughout his tenure, he has made the most of the tools available to him. That’s not a discredit to Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, or the 49er’s current sensation, Elijah Mitchell. But, the run game design is evidence of a playmaking mastermind. Shanahan has made a living on turning unknowns into relevant threats in the run game ever since he broke into the league as an offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. A further testament of his value is the falcons’ immediate failures in wake of his departure.
With a Shanahan-run offense, you get constant motion, top-tier blocking that paves open lanes for the run game. With his position players’ willingness to play outside their comfort zone and position, defenses can be left looking baffled. That added hesitancy in the defense also opens up opportunities in the passing game.
Shanahan’s lone issue in his experience of running an offense seems, oddly enough, to be the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl. More specifically, the last 10 minutes of the Superbowl are the issue. He has convincingly outscored his opposition in the first 3 quarters of his 2 Superbowl appearances. Yet, in the final 10 minutes of the 4th quarter, he has been outscored by a disturbing 46-0 margin.
Before Shanahan can even think about Superbowl aspirations, he needs to work on making his team relevant in the playoff picture. Though in the mix, the execution has been inconsistent at best. One thing’s for sure, with Shanahan’s creativity in the ground attack, anything is possible.