The 49ers shotgun is out of ammunition. Their use of the read option was the talk of the league during the offseason, and with good reason, it had played a large role in their run to the Super Bowl. Pundits across the nation went on and on about it, some like Trent Dilfer said it couldn't be stopped.
In their opening week victory over the Green Bay Packers, over half (56%) of the 49ers rushing attempts came out of the shotgun formation. The following week in Seattle the number was still close to that at 45%. During that time the run game was struggling, causing many to question what was the cause.
For some it was Frank Gore. He had turned 30 before the season, and surely a running back must be done by that age. He had lost his legs.
For some the finger was pointed at Colin Kaepernick. He was struggling getting the offense into the correct play at the line of scrimmage was their reasoning.
And for others it was the offensive line. They weren't getting any push. They had gotten soft due to running zone concepts as part of the read option plays.
There was some truth to all of those. I suggest that the decline in the 49ers running game had more to do with their use of the shotgun than anything else. Over their last 2 games, a loss to Indianapolis, and a victory over St Louis, the 49ers have run the ball 63 times for 334 yards. In those 2 games the 49ers ran the ball from the shotgun formation only 11 times. See any connection here?
The 49ers running game starts with Frank Gore. His style is not conducive to the read option. Even Gore has acknowledged that it was an adjustment getting used to the read option plays. Not knowing if he was going to get the ball or not has caused him to slow down. He doesn't hit the hole as hard. Plus with Gore in the shotgun, he is almost assured to go between the tackles, making it easier for teams to defend him.
Despite a slow start, Gore finished the first quarter of the season on pace for his 3rd straight 1,000 yard season. On the season Gore is averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per carry. That number becomes even more impressive when you consider how poor his output has been when asked to run from the shotgun formation. Gore is only averaging 2.1 yards per carry under those circumstances, however when asked to run from a formation when Kaepernick is under center his average jumps to 6.1.
Do I expect the 49ers to stop trying to run the ball from the shotgun completely? No. They need to continue to try to get it going, otherwise defenses will know that it is a pass every time Kaepernick steps back from the center and into the Pistol or regular shotgun.
With 10 days off, now is the time for the coaches and team to get back to work and get the gun going again. They need to get it reloaded to some extent. For now it is clear what works best for the running game, and Greg Roman and the rest of the offensive staff deserve a little credit for recognizing that, and sticking with it Thursday night.
49ers Run Game Through 4 Weeks
Overall Shotgun Runs Under Center Runs
Gore- 61 - 295 (4.8 ypc) 19 - 40 (2.1 ypc) 42 - 255 (6.1 ypc)
Kaepernick- 26 - 140 (5.4 ypc) 6 - 3 (.5 ypc) 20 - 137 (6.9 ypc)
Hunter- 22 - 80 (3.6 ypc) 11 - 19 (1.7 ypc) 11 - 61 (5.5 ypc)
Dixon- 5 - 9 (1.8 ypc) 1 - (-1) (-1 ypc) 4 - 10 (2.5 ypc)
James- 3 - 0 (0 ypc) 2 - 0 (0 ypc) 1 - 0 (0 ypc)