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A ‘perfect storm’ is brewing for the 49ers to rediscover their offensive identity

It’s time to establish the run

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

As the 49ers prepare to take on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, a storm is coming to Santa Clara both literally and metaphorically. With the weather forecast predicting an over 90% chance of rain between 4 pm and 10 pm, throwing the football might come as a bit of a challenge, which could ultimately work out in the 49ers’ favor throughout this game.

Running the ball has always been the foundation of Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme, and for several reasons, the 49ers haven’t had the success we’ve grown accustomed to in the ground game so far in the 2021 season. The 49ers currently rank 14th in the league at 4.3 yards per carry, a number that has improved in recent weeks after they had been hovering under four yards per carry.

In a game that’s slated to be a muddy mess that likely ends up being a slugfest in the trenches, the 49ers have the perfect opportunity to get back to their roots. It’s as simple as playing 60 minutes of hard-nosed football propelled by a level of physicality and dominance running the football that we have yet to see for a full 60 minutes so far this season.

The depleted depth at the running back position has played a major role in the lack of an explosive ground attack thus far. The 49ers offensive line is currently graded 5th overall as a run-blocking unit (per PFF), while the running backs are sitting at 21st in rushing grade. There have been plenty of times where the holes have been there to run through, but the plays simply are not being executed across the board in a way that would net plus efficiency on the ground.

This likely has a lot to do with a lack of experience at the position and within the scheme, as the 49ers have been forced to give significant carries to multiple rookies as well as a couple of players who began the season outside the 49ers organization on another team’s practice squad. However, things might take a turn for the better this week, as Elijah Mitchell is another week removed from a shoulder injury, and the potential return of JaMycal Hasty from Injured Reserve could give the offense a much-needed boost.

At first glance, the Colts’ defense looks solid, as they currently rank 11th in the NFL in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed. Additionally, Indianapolis currently ranks 11th in yards per carry allowed, which would normally indicate a strong rushing defense, but if you dive deep into the numbers, overall, it reveals a unit that is primed to be picked on by a potentially explosive offense, which we know the 49ers are capable of being if they are firing on all cylinders.

Through six games here, the Colts rank:

Defensive DVOA: 23rd

Yards per drive: 27th

Points per drive: 26th

Drive success rate: 28th

3rd down conversion rate: 14th

Red zone conversion rate: 23rd

These numbers suggest that this Colts defense could provide the perfect opportunity for Shanahan and this offense to get into some kind of rhythm offensively and provide a spark coming out of the bye week that gives the 49ers a strong jumping-off point as they attempt to make a run at a playoff spot down the backstretch of this season.

Despite their 2-3 record, the 49ers still rank top 10 in overall DVOA, and the advanced metrics support what I’ve seen with my own eyes as well. The 49ers are a GOOD team. They just need to put it all together and stay out of their own way by cutting back the egregious amount of self-inflicted mistakes they’ve had to start this season.

What better way to get things rolling than a vintage win on the back of their run game and defense, winning a war of attrition over the course of 60 minutes in a torrential downpour at Levi’s Stadium. That’s the kind of statement win that lets opposing teams know “We’re here,” and an assertive performance like that might be just what the 49ers need to get some momentum going as this team makes a run at a playoff spot down the backstretch of this season.