Coach Kyle Shanahan reminded his offense Friday of the team’s dominating run game in 2019.
It was a season in which the 49ers had three running backs achieve more than 500 yards rushing in a season since the days of the "Million Dollar Backfield," featuring Pro Football Hall of Famers Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson in 1954.
Last season, Raheem Mostert gained 772 yards, followed by Matt Breida (623) and Tevin Coleman (544). In addition, receiver Deebo Samuel averaged 11.4 yards a carry while rushing for 159 yards.
The 49ers’ success carried over into the postseason, as the club gained 612 yards with a 5.5-yard average.
Then, Shanahan reminded the 49ers about which defense had their number.
That’s right, the Arizona Cardinals.
“They see us as a team they were able to kind of shut down in the run game and a team that they played very well against,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said on Friday.
The 49ers open the regular season on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, and the 49ers expect to achieve a lot more success against the Cardinals on the ground than a year ago.
In two games against Arizona, the 49ers averaged just 67.5 yards per game with a 2.7-yard average attempt.
In the 49ers’ other 17 games (regular and postseason), the 49ers averaged 163.6 yards rushing with a 5.0 average.
“We feel like they did a good job of moving guys around a lot, bringing a lot of pressure and moving guys off their rules,” Juszczyk said. “They had a good game plan for us in both matchups, but we’re looking to fare a little better this time.”
The Cardinals were not a good team last season, finishing last in the NFC West with a 5-10-1 record. But Arizona twice played the 49ers tough.
The Cardinals lost 28-25 in Week 9. Two weeks later, the 49ers scored the go-ahead points in the final minute, then picked up another score on the final play of the game for a 36-26 victory.
Arizona’s defense under coordinator Vance Joseph stopped the 49ers’ running game and forced Jimmy Garoppolo to beat them. He did that, throwing for 741 yards and eight touchdowns in two games.
This season, Breida is now with the Miami Dolphins, and Jerick McKinnon is expected to play the role of the third-down back behind Mostert and Coleman.
The 49ers have one of the better collections of running backs in the league.
And Shanahan put down the challenge to the team's run game on Friday that he expects a lot more balance Sunday against the Cardinals than what he saw a year ago.