The San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins are set to square off on Monday Night Football, and it’s a great opportunity for the 49ers passing attack to get back on track. Although it is extremely unlikely for star wide receiver Michael Crabtree to make his NFL debut this week, the 49ers will be going up against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. That alone constitutes a prime opportunity for Colin Kaepernick to have a bounce-back game, but the biggest strength-on-strength matchup between the 49ers and Redskins will be the 49ers top-notch run defense against elite back Alfred Morris and the Redskins rushing offense.
49ers highly-regarded defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spoke at length about both Morris and the Redskins running game as a whole. First off, let’s take a look at quote from Fangio on the types of looks the Redskins present in terms of personnel packages when running the football, quote via Niners Nation’s David Fucillo, “Many. They have an excellent running game. Both, they have the standard running game that they’ve always run in their offense with [Redskins head coach] Mike [Shanahan] being there. They’ve got the zone scheme which they do a really good job running. They’ve run it forever and do a great job of running. And then they mix in their pistol attack where there’s some option game involved and they do a good job with that with [Redskins QB Robert] Griffin. There’s a lot of carryover to their option game running game to their regular running game from the O-line’s perspective. So, it’s pretty easy for them to do both. There’s a lot there. You’ve got a running quarterback who can keep it. You’ve got a really good running back in [Redskins RB Alfred] Morris, who has gotten a lot of yards in the year and a half that he’s been in the league. They do a really good job with it.”
Mike Shanahan certainly loves his zone-blocking scheme, but I don’t think the pistol offense or any creative looks that the Redskins throw at the 49ers will have much of an effect. Hopefully Ray McDonald, who is “pretty iffy” per Fangio, is able to play for the 49ers, as his presence will greatly help their run defense.
At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not the 49ers run defense can stop Alfred Morris mano-a-mano, and it’s definitely not an easy task to stop Morris. He’s one of the elite running backs in the NFL, and he’s been the most efficient back in the NFL this season statistically. Morris is averaging a league-high 91.8 yards per game this season after averaging over 100 last season, and the Redskins are only feeding their star back more now that they realize just how important- and great- he is. With 918 yards and five touchdowns on 181 carries, Morris is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt and is likely wallowing on the front of Fangio’s brilliant mind.
Here’s what Fangio said about Morris specifically, “They do a great job running the ball with their scheme. He does a great job of once he hits it, then he hits it good and hard and strong. He’s got good size. He’s got deceiving strength. Deceiving speed. He can cut it. The guy’s a pretty good fit for their offense.”
Morris certainly fits Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme perfectly, and I love that Fangio praises Morris’s cutting ability. This guy is one of the best running backs in the league as far as cutting defenders, and it forms a lethal combination with his vision. He has all the mental and physical tools of an elite back, and Morris is further evidence that forty times are misleading (as is draft stock and prestige of college, but those are more obvious).