In the NFC Championship Game, the San Francisco 49ers‘ run game was absolutely dominant and couldn’t be stopped. Excluding Jimmy Garoppolo’s kneel-downs, the 49ers rushed 38 times for 286 yards and four touchdowns, good for 7.5 yards and 0.35 expected points added per carry. Safe to say, if they can even remotely repeat this kind of performance, they will end up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the sixth time in franchise history — a feat that would tie the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots for most all time. Naturally, it’s seductive to believe Steve Spagnuolo and his coaching staff should spend most of their preparation figuring out how to stop Raheem Mostert from running through their defense.
While analyzing the Green Bay Packers’ mistakes and Kyle Shanahan’s genius is surely a necessity, selling out to stop the run and daring Garoppolo to beat them with his arm wouldn’t be a winning strategy. In this article, we will outline some reasons why.
The 49ers' passing game is actually good
First of all, we shouldn’t forget this is not a situation where you can force a quarterback such as Blake Bortles to beat you (and even he did just that when the Steelers asked for it two years ago). Garoppolo graded out solidly in the regular season, finishing with a 76.0 passing grade and ranking 13th among 31 quarterbacks with at least 300 dropbacks. That’s apparently enough for Shanahan to produce a top-five passing offense, as the 49ers had the fifth-highest expected points added per pass play. Garoppolo individually ranked eighth in EPA per pass play, but three quarterbacks in front of him (Ryan Tannehill, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford) didn’t play the full season. Inviting a top-10 passing offense to beat you isn’t what a defense wants to do, especially given that the 49ers' rushing offense didn’t rank higher than their passing offense. Excluding quarterback runs, the 49ers ranked tied for seventh in EPA/carry while generating -0.03 EPA on average when Garoppolo handed it off — a figure that doesn’t look impressive as opposed to the 0.15 EPA/pass play they generated when Garoppolo dropped back. If the Chiefs want to make life easier for their offense, they better hold the 49ers' passing offense below their season average.