When the San Francisco 49ers lost two consecutive games in Weeks 2 and 3, a big reason was that they were unable to run the football sufficiently. In losing to the New Orleans Saints 23-20 in their Week 11 showdown, the 49ers once again failed to run the football effectively.
The 49ers had 22 rushing attempts for 81 rushing yards which equates to a 3.7 yards per carry average with no rushing touchdowns. From a team like the 49ers that has one of the better rushing offenses in the league, this is nowhere near good enough to expect that the 49ers’ offense would be able to win a game unless it had a successful passing day, which it did not.
The 49ers’ inability to run the football effectively in the loss to the Saints manifested itself in two ways. First, it meant that the Saints defense was able to play with eight men inside the box. Because the 49ers were only able to break off two runs that went for 15 yards or more, the Saints were not punished for not having sufficient support on the second level of their defense.
The second factor was in their inability to extend a drive and take precious time off the clock. In the fourth quarter with the 49ers leading 20-17 and having the ball with 7:50 left on the clock, the 49ers went three-and-out on a drive which only lasted for 62 seconds as their inability to effectively run the football meant that the 49ers attempted a pass on each play of the drive.
This played a role into allowing the Saints to get the ball back and allowed things to unravel for the 49ers thanks to bad officiating and other self-destructive plays.
While much will be discussed about what happened in the final minutes of the game because of some calls made by the officials, a smaller footnote in the 49ers’ loss will be their inability to effectively run the football. The 49ers, under Jim Harbaugh, are a power running football team that controls the line of scrimmage. 81 rushing yards for the 49ers when they cannot make teams pay through the air makes it tough to expect a win.