Packers facing well-grounded foe
For many, home is where the heart is.
For the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers’ opponent Sunday, home is where the rushing yards are.
Though you won’t find that expression embroidered on any pillow, those seven words describe the 49ers’ running game. It’s not that San Francisco doesn’t travel by foot elsewhere; the team just does so more effectively in its own backyard.
Since Levi’s Stadium opened in 2014, the 49ers have marched across it with relative ease. The difference between what San Francisco produced there and what it generated on the road last season was greater than the home-and-away totals of any other team.
The result: a three-game roll that has spilled into this season, a streak unlike any other produced by the team since it joined the NFL in 1950.
The 49ers closed 2014 and opened 2015 with a rush. They overran the Chargers and Cardinals in December, then trampled the Vikings to kick off this season.
San Diego, the first of the three to feel their cleats, was hardest hit. Frank Gore (158 yards) and Colin Kaepernick (151) spearheaded a 355-yard onslaught. Gore scored from 52 yards out and Kaepernick, the quarterback, struck pay dirt on a 90-yard jaunt.
Somehow, the Chargers prevailed 38-35.
Arizona wasn’t as fortunate. With Gore (144) and Kapernick (63) again leading the way, San Francisco piled up 206 yards on the ground in a 20-17 win. The loss prevented the Cardinals from posting their first 12-win season in franchise history.
Last year, the 49ers ranked fourth in rushing yards with 2,176. They generated far more yards at home (1,287) than they did on the road (889).
That difference of 398 was the greatest of any team. Only the Colts (392) came close.
Further, the disparity between their average per carry at home (5.1) and away (4.0) was the greatest in the league.
Speaking of differences, the 49ers underwent a major makeover this offseason. They have a new head coach in Jim Tomsula and a new offensive coordinator in Geep Chryst, who previously was the team’s quarterbacks coach. They lost a raft of players including Gore, their all-time leading rusher, tackle Anthony Davis (retired) and guard Mike Iupati (signed with the Cardinals), two highly regarded run blockers.
So, did the overhaul compromise San Francisco’s running game? Given a ballot, the Vikings likely would vote no.
In beating Minnesota 20-3 to start the season, the 49ers amassed 230 yards and 14 first downs rushing. They averaged 5.9 yards per clip.
Second-year running back Carlos Hyde looked positively Gore-like. He churned out 168 yards in 26 attempts (6.5) and scored two rushing touchdowns.
That performance and the two that closed out 2014 produced 791 rushing yards. It’s the most by the team in three consecutive home games, slightly ahead of the previous best of 778 in 1951.
Up next are the Packers. You know, the team that has trouble defending the run on the road.
The Packers have surrendered an average of 143.6 yards in their last nine regular-season away games. Only San Diego (151.0) has yielded more.
The Packers have given up yards at a rate of 4.7 per carry. Only the Giants (5.1) and Chargers (5.1) have been more generous.
Since 2014, three individuals – Matt Forte (122 and 141), Mark Ingram (172) and Marshawn Lynch (110) – have nipped Green Bay for more than 100 yards rushing. All four did so in games outside Lambeau Field.
With that in mind, one could forgive Kaepernick for visualizing nothing but open field in preparing for the Packers. He has been kryptonite before, rushing for 181 and 98 yards in two playoff appearances against Green Bay.
Should he again super-size himself, he could push the 49ers to another record. The team needs 202 yards against the Packers to hit 973, a number that would break the four-game home mark of 972 rushing yards set in 1951.
Overall: Green Bay leads 30-27-1
At Levi’s Field: first meeting
Packers: Aaron Rodgers (73-33 overall; 2-2 vs. San Francisco)
49ers: Colin Kaepernick (26-16; 1-0 vs. Green Bay)
Once a 49er, now a Packer
Quarterback Scott Tolzien was on San Francisco’s 53-man roster (but did not see action) in 2011-12.
Once a Packer, now a 49er
There are no former Packers on the 49ers’ roster.
The most rushing yards generated in three consecutive home games (regular season) by the 49ers since joining the NFL in 1950.
Yds. ... Yards by Game ... When
791 ... (355, 206, 230) ... 2014-15
778 ... (245, 231, 302) ... 1951
730 ... (252, 208, 270) ... 1953-54
729 ... (269, 223, 237) ... 1950-51
719 ... (154, 237, 328) ... 1998