SANTA CLARA – Carlos Hyde might be the No. 7-ranked rusher in the league, but 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan considers him an equal to rookie backup Matt Breida.
Hyde was the featured back for the 49ers’ first four games of the season, but Breida made his mark last week against the Indianapolis Colts. Breida played more snaps and had more rushing attempts than Hyde.
“We’re still going to keep them fresh because there’s not much of a difference between the two, for me,” Shanahan said on “49ers Game Plan,” which airs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Bay Area.
“I know they have different styles. But similar to Atlanta, whether it’s Devonta Freeman for Tevin Coleman, it didn’t matter much. There are some things that one does better than the other, and vice versa. But when you have two guys, it’s a good problem to have. You go with the hot hand but you also try to play both of them and keep them fresh.”
Breida was the hot hand against the Colts. While Hyde was struggling to find room to run, gaining just 11 yards on eight attempts, Breida appeared to be on the brink of busting a long one. He gained 49 yards on 10 rushing attempts.
“Getting that experience, as a rookie being able to play that much, it was an awesome experience,” Breida said. “And I’m just happy they had the confidence in me to go out there and do that.
“As a game went on, I felt the game slowed down for me and I was able to recognize things a lot more and get more in control of the game.”
Hyde had been in control in the 49ers' backfield up to that point. On the season, Hyde has rushed for 332 yards and two touchdowns on 73 attempts. Breida has 120 yards rushing on 30 carries.
Shanahan said he takes a lot into account when determining which back will get the bulk of the playing time. It starts during that week of practice to see which player is meshing better with the game plan. Then, he observes how the game is unfolding.
Against Indianapolis, Breida’s speed to get to the outside and hit the holes quickly was a better counter to the Colts’ large defensive line. On Sunday, the 49ers will go up against a Washington defense that is stout in the front seven.
Former 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has designed a defense that ranks 10th in the NFL against the run. One of his top assistants is defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula, who served in that capacity for many seasons with the 49ers before replacing Jim Harbaugh as head coach.
“Those are two coaches I have a lot of respect for,” Shanahan said. “I’ve played against them a bunch. And you can see them putting their imprint on the defense. Their front is tough to go against. They play a hard 3-4. They got a bunch of big guys up front.
“They’re pretty talented up front. They set the edge. Those guys inside don’t move much, and they keep everything condensed. They make you work for everything. You got to grind it out against them.”