The 49ers made a statement in Chicago this weekend, leaving Soldier Field with a win, and in the process sent a resounding message to anyone who had buried this team after their 2-4 start to the season.
Perhaps the loudest statement made was by the 49ers ground attack, which dominated the Bears defense to the tune of 5.6 yards per carry vs. the after entering the game at 4.3 yards per carry on the season.
After struggling to find any consistency on the ground to start the season, rookie Elijah Mitchell has now rushed for over 100 yards in back-to-back performances. As a result, he looks to have a stranglehold on the starting running back job for the foreseeable future. Mitchell logged five runs of 10+ yards, propelling the 49ers rushing beyond just being serviceable, and instead of pushing them to a level of explosiveness that opened things up for the entire offense as a result.
It’s no secret that Kyle Shanahan wants to run the ball first and foremost. While I believe the success of play-action is not *strictly* dependent on the production of the run game, I also strongly feel that gashing a defense on the ground tends to open up holes in the passing attack that wouldn’t otherwise be there. This, in turn, gets the quarterback and offense as a whole into a rhythm of sorts, one that has been tough for the 49ers to find through the early portion of the season.
In the game against the Bears, it felt like this success on the ground truly put Shanahan in a position to produce what I believe ended up being his best half as a play-caller this season by a wide margin. The 49ers averaged 9.7 yards per play in the second half and scored on every single drive except for the final one, which they spent in victory formation ending the game.
Back to Mitchell, who I believe has taken huge strides over the last two weeks. Mitchell entered Week 7 ranking 22nd in the league in expected yards per rushing attempt and leaves Week 8 ranking 8th in the same category. This rapid ascent is backed up by more traditional statistics as well, as Mitchell has rushed for 6.7 yards per carry over this span, with a large share of volume as well, recording 18 carries in each contest.
At the moment, the 49ers sit only a half a game back from a playoff spot. So the focus now turns towards finding a way to sustain this newfound offensive momentum going forward and parlay it into a successful run that launches them into the playoffs. Truth be told, there isn’t much of a better matchup on paper than they will get in week 9, where they will take on an Arizona Cardinals team that is allowing 4.9 yards per carry, which is second to last in the entire NFL.