The 49ers clearly tried to establish the run in their 27-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, but to no avail. On 25 rush attempts, they gained only 49 yards on the ground.
It was expected to be a major challenge. After all, the Saints have the best rush defense in the league this season, and San Francisco's running back depth was severely depleted by injury.
Still, though, surely the 49ers hoped to be more successful. It certainly would have helped if they had fixed a problem that continually was thwarting their rush attack.
Time and again, Saints defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson wreaked havoc in the 49ers' backfield. New Orleans sent him on numerous blitzes, and he was tremendously effective on them. Gardner-Johnson recorded eight total tackles in the game, including one sack, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits.
On multiple occasions, Gardner-Johnson already was in the backfield before Nick Mullens could hand the ball off to the running back. The penetration threw off San Francisco's timing, regardless of whether it was a run or a pass, and from the second quarter on, the 49ers had trouble getting anything going.
Following the loss, NBC Sports Bay Area's Donte Whitner was very critical of what he viewed as the 49ers' failure to adjust.
"I think a lot of times, these runs are designed for the speed of Raheem Mostert, especially with those toss screens that are designed to cut inside and then get back to the sideline. And another thing: C. J. Gardner-Johnson. How many times can a nickel back blitz, hit your quarterback three times, sack him once, hit the running back two or three times for TFLs? That's the reason why they couldn't run the football.
"How can you allow the smallest guy on the football field to wreck your entire running game? I'm starting to think that on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball, they can't make adjustments mid-game."
It certainly was curious as to why the 49ers didn't change things up, rather than trying the same thing over and over again and getting the same result. Surely Kyle Shanahan and his staff recognized what was going on, but for whatever reason, they were unable to adequately address it.
They'll have plenty of time to figure out what went wrong, as the 49ers now enter a desperately needed bye week. And they better find some answers, as the Los Angeles Rams are liable to try the same things when they face San Francisco in Week 12.