What a devastating weekend for the San Francisco 49ers. The team fell to 1-2 to the Kansas City Chiefs, but more importantly, lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the season. As tragic as that may be, one positive takeaway from Week 3 was how well San Francisco did limiting Kareem Hunt and the rest of the Chiefs’ running backs. Hunt finished with 44 yards on 18 carries and his longest run of the day went for only 10 yards. He did have two touchdowns, but they were both 1-yard runs.
Alfred Morris had another solid game this week. He ran the ball 14 times for 67 yards (4.8 yard average per carry) and a touchdown. Morris was able to find his groove during the 49ers’ second drive of the third quarter, adding 41 rushing yards and capping the long drive with a touchdown.
Matt Breida had another impressive performance this week. It seemed like he found open space every time he touched the ball, finishing this game with 10 carries for 90 yards (a remarkable 9-yard per carry average).
With this performance, he kept his place atop the NFL rushing yard leaderboard, tied with Ezekiel Elliott — and that was despite stingers that had him sidelined at times, having to share the load with Morris, and the 49ers having to abandon the running game early. For that reason, Breida is the Fourth and Nine star running back for the second week in a row.
Breida has shown that he has the excellent vision and the brains necessary to anticipate blocks that happen before him, and it’s very impressive that he is excelling at the NFL level after coming to the 49ers as an undrafted free agent.
In this run from the first quarter, Breida took the handoff to the right and noticed that the gap that he was running into was closing up, so he cut to the left to find another opening. When the second option was covered by three Chiefs, Breida used another jump cut to get into open space and run for 26 yards. The young running back has a great understanding of the offense and where his blocks will develop, which is an impressive trait to exhibit this early in his career.
Blocks are very difficult to anticipate at the NFL level because of the athleticism that every defensive player possesses. An offensive lineman can turn his hips in an attempt to block a defender away from the gap where a run play is designed to go, only for the defender to spin off the block and make the tackle. Many backs struggle with breaking those tackles at the line of scrimmage or using a lateral movement to completely avoid the defender, but Breida has been utilizing his skills to create big gains out of broken plays.
In this run from the third quarter, the play began with a bad exchange between center Weston Richburg and Garoppolo. Garoppolo was able to pick up the ball and pitch it to Breida. Despite the small hiccup, Breida was able to use his speed to get around linebacker Dee Ford (#55), who got in the backfield while being blocked by wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (#84). Left tackle Joe Staley (#74) made a great block, allowing Breida to run past him and pick up 21 yards.
A few plays later, Breida picks up another 21 yards on a run to the opposite side.
The play began with Garoppolo motioning wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (#11) across the formation. The motion put the 49ers in a favorable situation because Kendall Fuller (#23) had to follow Goodwin, taking himself out of the play. When the ball was snapped, Breida immediately “turned on the jets” and made Allen Bailey (#97) miss a tackle on his way to another 20+ yard run.
Breida’s explosiveness has been his best trait this season: He currently leads the league with six runs of 20 yards or more.
With Garoppolo out, the 49ers should lean on their run game by handing the ball off early and often to their talented running backs. By doing so, they will take the pressure off quarterback C.J. Beathard’s shoulders and give him more simplified reads to make during play-action passes and take time off the clock.
While Beathard is no Garoppolo, he is a serviceable backup who has the ability to make plays, as he showed during last year’s game against the New York Giants. The 49ers look to rebound Sunday in Los Angeles against the Chargers in what will be Beathard’s first start since Week 12 of last season.
Fourth and Nine Star Running Backs:
Week 1: Dalvin Cook
Week 2: Matt Breida
Week 3: Matt Breida
Sources: NFL Gamebook, Chiefs.com, NFL.com