One of the old jokes in football, usually used to disaparage a team that has trouble scoring, goes something like this: "Q) How do you keep a player from the [insert team here] out of your yard? A) Put in an end zone!"
The 49ers seem to be taking that joke seriously this season.
They haven't allowed a single rushing touchdown all year. Every other team in the league has allowed at least six.
In fact the spectrum ranges all the way from the 49ers' zilch to the 20 rushing touchdowns allowed by the Buccaneers, most in the league.
In their Monday night win against the Steelers, the 49ers became the first team in NFL history not to allow a rushing touchdown through its first 14 games.
But what's the season-long record? The fewest allowed in a 16-game season is four, set by 10 different teams. The 2008 Ravens were the most recent to do so. The first to do it was a Mike Ditka-led Bears team of the mid-1980s, but not the one you're probably thinking of. It wasn't the 1985 edition to do it, but the 1986 Bears who only allowed four all season. Unfortunately for those Bears, they lost their first playoff game.
Limiting Chances to Score
The 49ers have been able to keep opposing runners out of the end zone by limiting goal line opportunities and stuffing the run unlike any other team inside the five-yard line.
All season, only seven times have opponents tried to run the ball within the 49ers' five-yard line. And those rushing attempts are getting stuffed every time. Opponents actually are averaging negative yardage on those attempts. In seven tries, they've combined for negative-two yards.
Few teams have put up such a brick wall against the run. Since 2001, only two teams have allowed negative opponents' yards per rush inside the five over the course of an entire season. That claim belongs to the 2007 Packers (-0.7 yards per rush) and the 2005 Jaguars (-0.2).
NFL Leaders in Rush EPA Allowed
Support from Advanced Stats
Most traditional statistics crown the 49ers as having the NFL's best rush defense this season. The advanced stats back it up, too.
Using Expected Points Added Allowed (EPA allowed) as a measure, San Francisco is by far the hardest team to rush on in terms of Expected Points Added per play.
49ers opponents have "lost" 60.5 expected points against them on rush plays this season - easily the most of any team in the league.