Niners most effective when running up the gut

Head coach Mike Singletary made it clear last week that he wants the 49ers to be a running team.

The 49ers seem to believe they have most of the components to succeed in that area. And Singletary took one step he deemed necessary to improve the run game when he dismissed pass-happy Mike Martz from his duties as offensive coordinator. (Singletary is expected to begin the interview process early this week.)


The 49ers ranked 27th in the NFL in yards rushing. They were 21st in rushing average at 4.0-yards per attempt. But we can break it down a little further.


The NFL’s official statisticians, Elias Sports Bureau, supplies figures for play direction. Here are those numbers for the 2008 San Francisco 49ers and what we think they mean (feel free chime in with your theories):


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Left end: 34 plays, 6.03 avg. NFL rank: 8. (NFL best: Chiefs; worst: Rams).

Left tackle: 38 plays, 3.76 avg. NFL rank: 23. (NFL best: Giants; worst: Jets).

Left guard: 34 plays, 3.50 avg. NFL rank: 20. (NFL best: Giants; worst: Cardinals).


Jumping to conclusions: The 49ers did a good job with run plays around left end. Vernon Davis and Billy Bajema are tight ends who are very good blockers. At this stage, left tackle Joe Staley is more of an athlete than a straight-ahead blocker. That might account for the relatively low rank on running plays behind him. Adam Snyder started seven games at left guard before line coach Chris Foerster and H.C. Mike Singletary determined he was a better fit at tackle.


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Up middle: 137 plays, 4.79 avg. NFL rank: 5. (NFL best: Giants; worst: Cardinals).


Jumping to conclusions: Center Eric Heitmann had a very good season. He clearly established himself as the team’s top lineman. Heitmann kept getting better as the season wore on, too, which showed in the way he played against some of the league’s top nose tackles (Dallas‘ Jay Ratliff and the Jets’ Kris Jenkins) late in the year. At 6-foot-3, 312 pounds, Heitmann is one of the biggest and most-powerful centers in the league. That strength is the reason the 49ers excelled running behind him.


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Right guard: 37 plays, 3.70 avg. NFL rank: 21. (NFL best: Cowboys; worst: Rams).

Right tackle: 49 plays, 2.90 avg. NFL rank: 32. (NFL best: Panthers; worst: 49ers).

Right end: 52 plays, 4.92 avg. NFL rank: 14. (NFL best: Ravens; worst: Colts).


Jumping to conclusions: This speaks to the inconsistency the 49ers had at right tackle this season. Jonas Jennings, Barry Sims and Snyder each started multiple games. Right tackle is a spot that the 49ers will look to upgrade in the offseason. Chilo Rachal took over for Tony Wragge at right guard in the 11th game. Wragge was a pretty good job, but Rachal showed signs of being a really good player. Again, the team’s improved ranking around right end is a testament to the tight ends. David Baas, who started nine games at left guard, is not as effective when he’s pulling, so that might be a reason the numbers for the right side aren’t as good, too. Also, I’m not sure what this says about Frank Gore. There were some games where it appeared as if he missed some holes (the Cowboys game stands out). Maybe he made too many poor reads this season on plays in which he made multiple options. Perhaps it was easier for him to make the correct decisions on plays right up the middle.


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I’ll examine the numbers for the 49ers’ run defense at some point, too.


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