Monday, October 6, 2003
San Francisco 49ers focus on run to help sputtering offense
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Long known for their prolific
passing, the San Francisco 49ers are turning to their ground attack
to move their struggling offense forward as they enter a crucial
stretch of schedule.
The Niners have not found much rhythm in their passing game
under new head coach Dennis Erickson, who promised a more
aggressive downfield approach upon his arrival in February.
Instead, the team has been carried by a rushing attack that has
been the most consistent aspect of an offense which continued to
sputter in Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Detroit Lions.
The 49ers rushed for 142 yards against Detroit, helping seal the
deal against the Lions, who had rallied from a 17-point deficit to
make it close at the end.
"Obviously, we are having much more success running the
football with consistency," Erickson said Monday. "We probably
are becoming more of a run team. As we get our front (line) back
now, maybe that is the case."
But despite ranking fifth in the NFL in total yards gained, the
Niners are an uncharacteristic 16th in passing.
"Maybe I looked at it a little differently, trying to get the
ball down the field and then run it as opposed to going the other
direction with this team," Erickson said. "But I really believe
that if we continue to become a good run team, then all of that
other stuff going down the field will come into play."
In the gusty winds of 3Com Park, quarterback Jeff Garcia twice
failed to hit wide-open star receiver Terrell Owens in stride with
passes that could have gone for long touchdown plays. Those two
plays characterized the frustrations the Niners have faced all
The 49ers couldn't put away the Lions with a quick strike. So
they kept the ball away from them instead, using scrambles by
Garcia and tough runs by tailbacks Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow
behind the lead blocks of fullback Fred Beasley.
While gaining a game-high 74 yards rushing, Hearst became the
fourth player to rush for 5,000 career yards with the 49ers. He
also moved past Mike Pruitt into 31st place among the NFL's
all-time leading career rushers with 7,410 yards.
"The biggest thing for me was the end of the game when we were
able to run it and eat the clock and get first downs," Erickson
said. "We ran it pretty well against their run defense. The
veterans in that group really took it upon themselves in the last
couple of drives to run the football."
Erickson said he may shift to a more run-oriented philosophy
with his team facing each of its three NFC West division foes in
the next month. That stretch begins with Sunday night's game in
Seattle against the division-leading Seahawks.
LINE COULD GET ANOTHER BOOST: Veteran left tackle Derrick Deese,
who has not allowed a sack in 25 consecutive games, returned to the
starting lineup against the Lions and played for the first time
since the Sept. 7 opener.
Deese did an "excellent job" in pass protection, Erickson
said, and also contributed in run blocking despite a lingering high
The Niners could get regular left guard Eric Heitmann back this
week. Heitmann also hasn't played since the opener because of a
high ankle sprain. He will attempt to practice Wednesday for the
first time since being injured during practice Sept. 11.
If Heitmann make progress through the week, he could start
against the Seahawks. Versatile second-year reserve Kyle Kosier has
been starting in Heitmann's place.
"There's no question about it, (Heitmann) gives us some
plusses," Erickson said. "He's bigger and a little heavier rear
end in there. He earned that starting position and has played
really well there. If he is healthy and he's 100 percent, then he
would move in there and be the starter."
SHAW RELEASED: The 49ers waived second-year defensive tackle
Josh Shaw on Monday, one week after he had returned to the team
from serving a four-week suspension for violating the NFL's
The league gave Shaw a one-week roster exemption to practice
with the team last week. Erickson said the Niners would consider
signing Shaw back to their practice squad.
EXTRA POINTS: Defensive tackle Devone Claybrooks, signed by the
Niners a week ago, attended his father's funeral in Virginia on
Monday and is expected to return to the San Francisco Bay area
Tuesday. Claybrooks left the Niners after just one practice session
when his father died suddenly last Wednesday. ... Erickson gave his
players the day off Monday, though several were at the team
facility watching film, spending time with coaches and working out.