The San Francisco 49ers have not had a great deal of success running the ball in 2014, but when they do succeed, it is usually to the left side of the offensive line. Pro Football Focus tracks runs to different parts of the offensive line, and in their 49ers-Raiders preview, they provided some interesting numbers. According to PFF, the 49ers have run 111 times to the outside of the left guard or over. On those runs they have gained 485 yards (4.4 ypc) and scored five touchdowns. While running anywhere to the right of that, they have run 236 times for 881 yards (3.7 ypc) and only one touchdown.
Joe Staley saw his 2014 season get off to a rough start, but he has settled into a pretty solid groove the last month. Next to him, Mike Iupati struggles with consistency in pass protection, but he remains a solid option in run blocking. That has generally been his primary strength, so this is not exactly a shock.
The 49ers face a Raiders team that has been somewhat successful against the run to the left side of the offensive line. Football Outsiders ranks them No. 6 against runs to the left end, and No. 12 against runs to the left tackle. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack has been lining up on that side, and has had a strong rookie season. He is 11th among rookies in tackles, and PFF has graded him out positively in all but one game. He is coming off a game against the Rams in which he graded out at 0.0, and 0.4 against the run. Here is a look at his grades this season:
The Raiders have struggled mightily against the pass, but have been fairly solid against the run. They are No. 27 in yards allowed, but as we know, not all yards are the same. Considering the fact that they are 1-11 and have some ugly losses under their belt, it is no surprise they have given up a lot of yards. However, Football Outsiders ranks them No. 13 against the run, and they have given up 4.0 yards per carry, which is good for No. 12. They are giving up a lot of yards because teams have the leads to run out the clock, but they are still a tough group.
The question is how the 49ers will approach this defense. Week in and week out we find ourselves asking how the 49ers are going to attack a given defense. At this point, I really have no idea. They are facing an awful pass defense, and a solid enough run defense. Maybe they spread things out and attack through the air, maybe they force it on the ground. I have no clue at this point.
Vance McDonald has been ruled out for Sunday's, so the 49ers will be rolling out Vernon Davis, Garrett Celek and Asante Cleveland. The 49ers tight ends have been dealing with injuries all season, and at times it feels like that is part of the problem with the offense. No McDonald and a still questionable Vernon Davis could mean more problems for the run game this Sunday. We'll see what it brings.