Posted: 7:34 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, 2013
By Andrew Carroll
How 'bout dat run game, eh?
Not counting Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers rush attack against Green Bay on Sunday garnered 68 yards on 28 attempts for about 2.4 per rush -- and, remember, 23 of those yards came on one Kendall Hunter run.
According to Pro-Football-Reference (PFR), the squad hasn't had that bad of a day rushing since Week 1 verse Seattle and Week 3 at Cincinnati in 2011, which you will recall was the lockout-affected season: the Jim Harbaugh scheme barely beginning its installation with no receiving threats and one of the worst offensive lines in football.
This is the inverse of the 2013 offense, which boasts one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the league and a group of Grade-A maulers in front of him. So what gives? (or what isn't giving?). Even with Kaepernick included, the run game averaged 2.6 per carry for 90 yards. San Francisco failed to rush for 100 yards in three games last year, all of them losses.
And there is the key difference. The 49ers scored 29 points in those three losses combined, but they scored 34 on Sunday. This is no longer an offense that needs its run game to win.
It still, of course, does need the threat of it -- and that will not go away. Jim Harbaugh has built a reputation as a guy in love with the power offense and spent the week prior to Green Bay brilliantly deriding all the "QB hit" talk out of the read option. Clay Matthews and the Packers' defense were so intent on not repeating their embarrassing defeat from January that they were not ready for the air game.
I don't like to brag (just kidding, of course I do), but I kinda-sorta called this in last week's Advanced Stats column. Green Bay could sell out for the run and the read option, but what were they going to do to stop The Kid from beating them with his arm?
The answer: nothing.
The most consistent success the 49ers had rushing the ball was against Green Bay's 2-3-6 dime package -- nothing to write home about. Outside of the 28 yards gained on 4 rushing plays against a back-heavy defense, San Francisco gained a mere 62 on 30 plays.
But it did not matter. In 10 passing plays against that same package, Kaepernick threw for 103 yards.
As we know, the acquisition of Anquan Boldin proved to be precisely what the doctor ordered; and even Vernon Davis is continuing his success from last year's playoff run. If these two can stay healthy, it will force defenses to adjust less for the run game and more for our vertical threats.
Boldin is a physical receiver who "knows how to get open", as Colin put it. Until Michael Crabtree comes back (talk about scary), he and Davis should be able to hold down the fort, allowing the run game to reemerge as a focal point when necessary.
Green Bay spent 31 snaps in either their base, starting 3-4 defense, or in a 4-3, selling out for the run. The 49ers managed 14 yards on 17 carries against it; but they managed 108 yards in the air on the 14 passing plays.
A lot of that went to former Baltimore Raven, Anquan Boldin, who managed 208 yards and a touchdown on 13 receptions.
Pro Football Focus gave him their Game Ball for the week, and it is well-deserved. The 200 yard performance marks the first such outing by a San Francisco wide receiver since Terrell Owens did it in 2000 against Chicago. Before that, you would have to go back to Jerry Rice in 1995.
Believe it or not, Boldin is the 6th receiver in 49ers history to manage 200 receiving yards in a game; and this was only the 9th such time it had happened at all for the squad.
We can send flowers and a thank you note to second-year player, Jerron McMillian.
According to PFF, McMillian went 4-for-4 in allowing a Boldin target to be completed, giving up 35 yards and a touchdown in the process. He graded to a (negative) -5.8 for the day, making him the worst safety in the league through one game by a pretty sizable margin.
Though he wasn't alone. The entire Green Bay secondary, Tramon Williams aside, graded negative by PFF standards, with Sam Shields having the second worst outing at -2.6. Shields was marked responsible for 106 of Boldin's yards on 7 targets, 4 receptions.
Tomorrow, I will bring you an All-22 analysis of Boldin's day, so be sure to check back in to Niners Nation.
For now, take great peace in the knowledge that, for the first time in the HarBaalke Era, a San Francisco wide receiver acquisition seems to be going as intended -- in fact, better than intended. Boldin leads the league in yards per route run, meaning we may at last have a big play threat on the outside.
I also predicted in last week's column (though this prediction is pretty easy) that whoever ended the game with a higher ANY/A between The Kid and Aaron Rodgers would hand his team victory.
Kaepernick posted an incredible 11.32 ANY/A, second to Peyton Manning through Week 1. Rodgers had a better day than his usual one against Vic Fangio's unit, but his 8.64 ANY/A was not enough to earn the "W."
Part of that was because twice in the 4th quarter Colin led a scoring drive that put San Francisco in front; including the go-ahead drive that involved a 43 yard completion to Boldin after the Packers had taken their first lead of the game.
If there is one thing we have learned about The Kid (and we have quickly learned a lot), it is that he is unaffected by pressure. The comeback drive from a late 24 - 28 deficit marked Kaepernick's first regular season 4th quarter comeback for a win.
His first successful comeback came against Atlanta in the NFC Conference Championship. Not bad, eh?
Scott Kacsmar, who did amazing work to formalize quarterback comeback and game-winning drive records, is writing a weekly column for Football Outsiders entitled "Clutch Encounters." 49ers vs. Green Bay was his "Game of the Week" for Week 1, and I encourage you to check out the article because it's awesome.
Colin has shown he can do it with his legs, his arms, and his mind. A triple threat? He's not the first, but I have yet to see that phrase employed by any member of the football press, so why can't Colin Kaepernick be the triple threat?
His 412 yard aerial show was the first 400 yard performance by a 49er QB since Tim Rattay in 2004, making the former Nevada star the 5th in San Francicso history to accomplish the feat. Through Week 1, Brian Burke's Expected Points Added stat has the Niner offense as the 3rd best in the league
So long as this passing success can continue, the running threat we already know to be viable will have its day. And then Jim Harbaugh can have his cake and eat it too.
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