Through seven weeks of the NFL, the 49ers rushing attack is 12th in DVOA, 18th in success rate, and 23rd in rushing EPA per play. The consistency has lacked all season. Hopefully, what we saw during Week 7 was a sign of things to come for the Niners rushing offense.
Elijah Mitchell had 18 of the 24 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown. Per Next Gen Stats, 50% of Mitchell’s yards were more than what he was expected to run for. He did this despite 27% of the boxes he faced having eight or more defenders in them. That’s a hat tip to Mitchell, who made the most of each carry.
Here’s a look at the majority of Mitchell’s carries from last game:
You can tell that Mitchell is going out of his way to keep everything vertical. He had a habit of bouncing his runs to the outside earlier in the year when they were supposed to go inside. Good for the rookie to heed the advice from his coaches. It’s paying off.
Trey Sermon didn’t play a single snap Sunday night. Before the season started, I didn’t think it’d matter whether who the lead back was. The same goes for cornerback between Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir. For both positions, the 49ers hoped one player would perform.
They’re getting that in Mitchell, but Sermon’s usage remains puzzling. Why? Well, as you saw above, Mitchell had plenty of decently sized running lanes to go through. His speed allows him to get through the hole quicker, which makes a difference, but Sermon doesn’t see the field — even as a backup.
Has Mitchell’s success made it OK that Sermon is an afterthought in this offense? I think we have to ask where Sermon fits next to Mitchell, the clear-cut starter. Trading up for a running back to delegate him to an emergency back makes you skeptical that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes.