The counting stats aren’t kind to the 49ers' running game. They averaged 3.3 yards per carry on 29 attempts. The Niners had a below-average rushing success rate of 34 percent, down nine points from their season average.
Still, when New Orleans knew they needed to stop the run and load the box, their defense couldn’t get off the field. Of course, that doesn’t happen without the 49ers’ offensive line doing its job. Christian McCaffrey averaged 2.67 yards behind the line of scrimmage on 11 attempts, per Next Gen Stats. That should help paint a picture of how comfortable the backfield is behind the line.
But the Niners don’t convert two first downs before taking a knee without Jordan Mason. The undrafted rookie free agent carried the ball five times for 25 yards, with 18 of those coming after contact. Check out Mason’s carries below:
That’s a player that appears to get it. It’s nothing flashy. You see Mason attack the line of scrimmage without running up the backs of his offensive lineman. He’s falling forward consistently on contact. So, instead of a gain of two or three yards, those turn into four and five.
Again, it may not seem like much, but that’s the difference between a first down by the time you hand Mason the ball the third time.
Elijah Mitchell is headed to the injured reserve for possibly two months. Christian McCaffrey is day-to-day with knee irritation, so Mason could see his duties doubled in the coming weeks.
Kyle Shanahan was impressed with Mason. Here he is talking about the undrafted free agent and Ty Davis-Price Monday afternoon:
“It was really impressive. The way he came in there and ran the ball, the way he protected it too. He wasn’t loose with it at all and you could feel him like he did in the preseason when he got those carries. I know we could from the sidelines, we could see it on the tape and you could tell our players felt it out there when he was running, so that was real encouraging and it’s going to open up some opportunities for him and also for [RB] Ty [Davis-Price] to get a chance to get back out there.”
When you’re running out the clock toward the end of the game, there is nothing more important than ball security. So, for Shanahan to point out that out is another positive sign for Mason.
Mason, listed at 223 pounds, should be fresh to handle the workload and take some off McCaffrey’s plate since he has only ten carries this season. It’s a small sample size, and some will lead you to believe the 49ers regret moving Jeff Wilson, but the team is in good hands with Mason.