Running backs Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman have proven worthy of starting roles. But as 49ers teammates, the term starter is not really applicable.

And neither has any complaints.

“I love it,” Coleman said after the 49ers’ 28-25 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, which after the weekend left the club as the NFL’s only unbeaten team.

“It’s a long season, and when you have as many good running backs as we do, all we can do is help each other out.”

Breida and Coleman both supplied important plays in the 49ers’ narrow victory over the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Breida rushed for a team-high 78 yards on 15 carries despite entering the game with a left ankle sprain that kept him out of the second half of the 49ers’ Week 8 game against Carolina.

“They stacked the box, and they were focused on taking away our running game,” Breida said. “But we stuck with it, the offensive line did a great job, and we ended up getting some big yards.”

Coleman had a particularly difficult time finding room to operate Thursday. He gained just 23 yards on 12 rushing attempts. But Coleman came through with one of the big plays of the game when he swept left to pick up the first down on a third-and-3 situation with 2:27 remaining.

The 49ers needed two more first downs to be able to run out the clock. And Coleman’s effort enabled the 49ers to keep the clock running late in the game.


Despite being contacted at the sideline by Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks short of the sticks, Coleman managed to contort his body and keep his balance to pick up the necessary yardage. The officials’ spot stood up to a challenge from Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury.

“I knew right where I was, so I tried to stay in-bounds as long as I could and turn my body to get the ball where it had to be,” Coleman said.

The 49ers own the No. 2 run game in the league at 171.1 yards per game, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens at 204.9. The biggest portion of Baltimore’s running attack comes from quarterback Lamar Jackson, who averages nearly 80 yards a game.

The 49ers do it with a run game that places a lot of emphasis on misdirection, complex blocking patterns and some ball-handling mastery from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

“Week-to-week it’s always different,” Garoppolo said. “Some weeks are easier than others, but it’s a good challenge. By the end of the week, once Sunday gets here, Thursday in this case, you have it down.”

Breida leads the 49ers with 524 yards on 99 carries with an impressive 5.3-yard average. He battled injuries throughout 2018, and led the team with 814 yards and a 5.3 average. Breida grew accustomed to playing last season with ankle issues, so his performance Thursday was no surprise.

“I felt fine,” Breida said. “We didn’t have any full-speed practices, so I really didn’t test it until the game. But I knew I would be fine.”

Breida has five starts on the season, while Coleman has been on the field for the opening snap for three of the six games in which he has appeared.

Coleman has 355 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns on 83 attempts (4.3 average). And when he missed two games earlier in the season with an ankle sprain, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson stepped up. Mostert has gained 307 yards with a 5.6 average, and Wilson has scored four touchdowns.

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Things are looking even better for the 49ers’ run game for the second half of the season. Offensive tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey are due back soon from injuries. Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill have filled in admirably.

Moreover, Garoppolo is coming off a 317-yard, four-touchdown performance. Garoppolo and the run game should see benefits from the addition of veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

“Teams are going to see that they can’t just stack the box on us,” Breida said.