The San Francisco 49ers enter a must-win Week 6 primetime clash with the Los Angeles Rams with the doubters sharpening their knives after a dismal Week 5 performance.
San Francisco's stunning blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins, which followed a surprise defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles, served to vindicate those who have dismissed injury-hit 49ers as contenders for the postseason.
At 2-3 with a quarterback dealing with a high ankle sprain and a porous offensive line drastically underperforming, it is tough to find too many areas of the 49ers' roster that are trustworthy.
However, one part of the game in which the 49ers have continued to excel – as head coach Kyle Shanahan alluded to in comments to the media this week – is running the football.
The Niners' run blocking received some criticism in the wake of the 43-17 defeat to the Dolphins, with much of that stemming from a failed fourth-down conversion on which left guard Laken Tomlinson lost the leverage battle with Christian Wilkins and Jerick McKinnon was stuffed on a shotgun run.
Tomlison was also culpable on another run stuff that saw him fail to make sustained contact after pulling to take on linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who enjoyed an excellent game for Miami.
Yet the reality is that Tomlinson and his teammates on the offensive line were largely impressive in opening holes for Raheem Mostert, whose 8.18 yards per carry average was reflective of a strong display in which he demonstrated speed, vision and contact balance.
The problem, as Shanahan pointed out, was that through turnovers and struggles on defense, the Niners got down so big so quickly that they had to move away from the ground game.
This week's Niner in Focus takes a look at the O-Line and highlights a selection of plays to illustrate that San Francisco's rushing attack is still one that can control games.
For the most part in the loss to Miami, the Niners' O-Line did an excellent job of sealing off defenders, getting to the second level and opening cutback lanes for Mostert, with tight ends George Kittle and Charlie Woerner each having a hand in the ground game's efficiency.
While the Rams may be an impressive 4-1, their run defense is exploitable and ranks 24th in the NFL by Football Outsiders DVOA.
If the 49ers can make a strong start they will have the opportunity to dictate the game with the run. However, that is contingent on the O-Line doing a substantially better job of protecting Jimmy Garoppolo in passing situations and a secondary that should be boosted by the return of cornerback Emmanuel Moseley preventing the kind of coverage issues that quickly extinguished San Francisco's hopes against the Dolphins.
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