After getting run over for three straight weeks by backs such as Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson and LeSean McCoy, the beleaguered San Francisco 49ers’ run defense may have caught a needed break.
Tampa Bay back Doug Martin suffered a setback in his rehabilitation from a hamstring injury and isn’t going to make it back in time for the Buccaneers (2-3) to play Sunday in San Francisco (1-5).
It might not matter much since the Niners also allowed 100-yard games by lesser backs such as Fozzy Whitaker and Christine Michael during a five-game streak of futility on run defense that has San Francisco on pace to allow the most yards rushing in a season since the 1985 Houston Oilers.
“We’re all stunned,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “We haven’t been playing to our potential, haven’t been playing to the standard we set for ourselves.”
The situation might have bottomed out last week in Buffalo when McCoy ran for 140 yards and three TDs, and the Bills gained 312 yards in all on the ground in the second-worst rushing defense performance in 49ers history.
“Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed by what happened on this past Sunday,” defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said.
While avoiding Martin could be a break for San Francisco, Tampa Bay backup Jacquizz Rodgers is coming off the best game of his career with 30 carries for 101 yards two weeks ago against Carolina.
That was the first time all season that the Bucs topped 100 yards rushing as a team in a game.
“Your run game gets better if you run it more,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said. “You’ve got to make yards; you’ve got to have efficient runs and you’ve got to be moving the chains. If you’re doing that and you’re running it more and you’re repeating runs, your line and your backs both have a tendency to get stronger as you go.”
The run game may be even more prominent since the Bucs will be without receiver Vincent Jackson, who was placed on IR this week with an injured left knee. The three-time Pro Bowler had 15 catches for 173 yards in five games this season. His absence will allow defenses to pay even more attention to star receiver Mike Evans.
“When you lose a guy like Vincent to your team, he means a lot to our team because of the kind of pro he is, the kind of player he is and the kind of man he is,” Koetter said.
The Bucs do hope to get defensive tackle Gerald McCoy back from a calf injury that forced him to miss the previous game.
The Niners also could be without their starting back. Carlos Hyde is expected to miss the game with a shoulder injury. That will leave the running duties mostly to Mike Davis and Shaun Draughn. Davis averages just 1.7 yards per carry on 47 career runs, while Draughn averages just 2.1 yards per carry this season and 3.3 in his career.
Colin Kaepernick made his first start at quarterback for the 49ers in nearly a year last week. He went 8-for-11 for 135 yards in the first half against the Bills, but struggled in the second half when he was just 5-for-18 for 52 yards and took three sacks. Kaepernick did show flashes as a scrambler with 66 yards rushing on eight carries, but knows it’s a fine line of when to stay in the pocket and when to run.
“There were a couple times that I wish I would have hung in a little bit more, but those are always split-second decisions that it’s always easier to look back and say, ‘I should have done this. I should have done that,’ ” he said.
No. 1 Alabama 33, No. 6 Texas A&M 14
No. 2 Ohio St. at Penn St., late
No. 3 Michigan 41, Illinois 8
No. 5 Washington 41, Oregon St. 17
No. 7 Louisville 54, NC St. 13
No. 8 Nebraska 27, Purdue 14
No. 10 Wisconsin 17, Iowa 9
No. 11 Houston at SMU, late
No. 12 West Virginia 34, TCU 10
No. 16 Oklahoma at Texas Tech, late
No. 21 Auburn 56, No. 17 Arkansas 3
No. 19 Utah 52, UCLA 45
No. 20 W. Michigan 45, E. Michigan 31
No. 22 N. Carolina 35, Virginia 14
No. 23 Mississippi at No. 25 LSU, late
No. 24 Navy 42, Memphis 28