After averaging 101.7 rushing yards per game in the first three games of the season, San Francisco has averaged 183.8 yards per contest during their five-game win streak. Greg Roman was asked this week about the 49ers’ running game. Specifically, why they’ve been so good lately.
“It’s a lot of different things,” Roman said. “It’s the blocking of our wide receivers, which is not often commented on or acknowledged, but it’s very important. If you’re not carrying the ball, you’re blocking somebody.”
Since it sounded like Roman was virtually begging for someone to bring up wide receiver blocking, I asked him how much that part of the game feeds into future decisions on a couple receivers we’ve heard a lot about this week.
You talked about the wide receivers blocking and the importance of that in the run game. You have guys like Manningham and Crabtree who are kind of working their way back. Is it a challenge to get their blocking up to speed when they’re coming off an injury?
“That’s an interesting question. It’s definitely factored in about what you’re going to try to ask them to do coming off an injury. But if they heard me say that they would not be happy. They want action, they want to be in the fray and they do a tremendous job. Michael Crabtree does as good a job as I’ve ever seen consistently blocking down the field since I’ve been here. And Mario, same thing, does a great job. And it’s a great and unique thing when you see our offensive line flying 15 yards down the field, our receivers competing like maniacs down the field. It’s a special thing to see. I don’t think you see it too often.”
If you think this was an excuse to quote Roman when he called my question interesting, well … you’d be partly right. Usually only questions from “The Matts” (that’s what people call Barrows and Maiocco in Santa Clara — they’re pretty much a package deal) get that kind of recognition from the 49ers offensive coordinator. Where was I going with this? Ah yes, blocking.
Everyone knows Crabtree and Manningham are bigger/better threats in the passing game than the other 49ers receivers not named Anquan Boldin, and we already mentioned how getting both receivers back will help their run-heavy offense get some balance and take some of the strain off Frank Gore. But better downfield blocking could mean longer runs (and more yards after the catch for guys who catch short or intermediate passes).
Roman seemed to be complimenting all the receivers’ blocking abilities so far this season. Boldin has clearly been outstanding in this capacity, but what about the others? The friendly folks at Pro Football Focus have these scores in the area of run blocking (run blocking snaps in parentheses).
- Anquan Boldin: -1.2 (173)
- Kyle Williams: -1.7 (126)
- Jon Baldwin: 0.0 (30)
Huh, that score for Boldin looks rather low since it seems like he’s been crushing guys all season. Let’s check out last year’s grades.
2012 Run Blocking Grades
- Michael Crabtree: -0.1 (242)
- Mario Manningham: -0.4 (111)
- Anquan Boldin: -1.4 (341)
- Kyle Williams: 0.5 (93)
- Jon Baldwin: -1.1 (245)
Perhaps this is just a lesson: PFF is a great site, but it isn’t smart to use it as a crutch for everything one writes about football-related happenings. Crabtree and Manningham (as well as Boldin, for that matter) sure seem like complete football players who can block pretty well. Roman seems to agree. That’s probably good enough for the purposes of this post.
Manningham is “day-to-day” according to Roman, but it seems like he’ll play against Carolina. He was running full speed at the beginning of Thursday’s practice, while Crabtree was wearing a blue non-contact jersey and seemed to be going at less than full speed. He’s still at least a week or two away. One can be assured that when both players return to game action, they’ll be ready to not just give Colin Kaepernick someone to throw to, but block for each other and the running backs as well.