Santa Clara – Call it the Magic 40, and it’s helped transform the 49ers season that appeared on the rocks three weeks ago.
Coach Kyle Shanahan set an ambitious target of 40 rushing plays in Week 10 against the Los Angeles Rams, and his offense came with 44 rushes for 156 yards in a 31-10 win.
The 49ers then beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 30–10 in a 42-carry, 171-yard effort to reach their record 5–5.
Then there are the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, who know what it’s like to be on a full-on ground and the other end of the pound, after the 2019 season lost the 49ers 27-10 in the first round of the playoffs and absorbed 47. took. Runs 186 yards.
Shanahan lures 40 carries for good reason. In his 15th season as a play-collar, Shanahan has reached or exceeded 40 rushes 18 times. He was offensive coordinator in Houston (2008–09), Washington (2010–13), Cleveland (2014) and Atlanta (2015–16). He has called plays as head coach for the 49ers since 2017.
Including the postseason, this is a duration of 224 games. Shanahan’s record in games involving 40 or more races is 18–0.
If it were that easy and put 40 ongoing plays on his call sheet, Shanahan would do it every week. To reach 40, a lot of things have to be done right.
“Forty covers the entire team,” Shanahan said. “Defense has to be played that way, offense has to be played that way and special teams have to play that way.”
Against the Rams and Jaguars, it’s not like the 49ers have been highly explosive, averaging 337 yards on 86 carries and 3.9 yards per attempt. But setting the tone with an early scoring drive of 18 plays for 93 yards against the Rams and 20 plays for 87 yards against the Jaguars got off to a good start to the 49ers, while the other two legs did their job and Shanahan got off to a fast pace. Calls enabled.
“It’s not like we’re just bothering people in the run game,” Shanahan said. “We’re looking for a way to stay out there. Our defense is stopping people at a high level and we’ve gotten the turnover on special teams and defense.”
Shanahan’s call for 40 or more runs in a game after a deep dive 18 times sums up all the good things that come with that kind of perseverance:
— Shanahan’s offenses increased by 3,483 yards on 761 carries, averaging 42.3 carries and 193.5 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt.
The most carries were 52 (for 170) yards in a game for Cleveland in a 24–3 victory by the Browns on November 6, 2014. The most yards were by 49ers in a 37–20 win at 285 (42 carries). Over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game on January 19, 2020. The lowest was 99 yards (41 carries) for the 49ers on October 13, 2019, in a 20-7 win over the Rams.
– Featuring 12 different backs as major Rush in 18 games – Steve Slayton, Ryan Motes, and Ryan Toren of Houston, Roy Helu Jr., and Alfred Morris of Washington, Terence West of Cleveland, Devonta Freeman of Atlanta, and Matt Breeda. Raheem Mostart, Tevin Coleman, Eliza Mitchell and Deebo Samuel with 49.
Morris was the leader four times, Brida twice and Mostart twice.
If you’re expecting Shanahan to spend any time running on a first-round draft pick, guess again. The highest draft taker of all those backs was Samuel, who scored 79 yards against the Jaguars last week and was a second-round pick as a receiver.
—Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback in eight of the 18 games where Shanahan’s teams have driven the ball 40 or more times, has a 104.2 passer rating in those games with 70.6 percent of passers (132 out of 187), his career number of 67.3 is better than. percent and 99.1.
“Any football team that runs 40 times, I think you’re going to have a good day,” Garoppolo said. “We’ve done it in the past, it’s worked well for us. Our offense seems to suit the week and we try to take advantage of what the defense is giving us.”
– A constant churn of positive yardage creates better down-and-away distance. Eleven times in those games Shanahan’s team was 50 percent or better in third place, including 14 out of 26 in the past two weeks.
– Takeaways increase the chances of keeping the ball and calling more running plays. Shanahan’s teams are plus-17 in turnover margins in those 18 games.
– Taking sacks and stopping sacks increases wealth and leads to far-reaching waste for the opposition. Shanahan’s teams are in plus-26 sacks in 18 matches.
To make the endless procession of running plays less predictable, Shanahan employs several position groups with the quarterback down center and in shotgun formation.
“They do a lot of window dressing but they want to be a power football team,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday.
The way the 49ers are running the ball is a flashback to 2019 when they went 13-3 in the regular season and trounced the Vikings and Packers on their way to Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs.
That season, the 49ers were second in the NFL with 498 rushing attempts and 2,305 yards. Only the Baltimore Ravens had more crowds and yards, and they have a running quarterback in Lamar Jackson.
The 49ers had four straight games in that season in which they had 40 or more rushes – victories over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and the Rams.
Former 49ers tackle Joe Staley on his weekly appearance on KNBR, Shanahan has been running the ball differently over the past two weeks.
“There was one play where Deebo was a fullback, what he does from the defensive side is he puts them in the nickels,” Staley said. “They have different personnel groups for every base play. It’s a run-based offense but completely different from the creativity of what Kyle is doing.”
The plays are set differently, but Garoppolo sees the same look in the eyes of Ram and Jaguar as he saw in 2019.
“You feel their exhaustion,” said Garoppolo. “In these last 14 days, I don’t want to say that it has changed our team, but now we are moving in the right direction. People are winning one-on-one matches. When you are winning one-on-one matches. So it sets the tone for everything.”