The San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins entered Monday night's matchup with two of the best running games in the NFL. The Redskins were the top-ranked team in the league, averaging 155.2 yards per game. The 49ers were fifth at 141.0 yards per game. On Monday both teams combined for 176 yards through four quarters. The Redskins hit 100 yards on the nose.
Ostensibly, both teams should have been able to find running room. Neither team was dominant on the defensive front entering the Week 12 game. The 49ers ranked 12th in the NFL giving up 103.8 yards per game rushing, and the Redskins ranked 18th at 115.0 yards per game. Both front sevens stood up, however.
The Redskins' defense deserves credit in particular. As a team, the 49ers were held to 2.7 yards per carry, well below their 4.5 YPC average. Frank Gore was held to 2.4 YPC, gaining just 31 yards on 13 carries. Gore averaged at least 2.9 YPC in eight straight games before Monday.
Unfortunately, a strong performance from the front seven was offset by breakdowns in the secondary. Colin Kaepernick tied a season-high with three touchdown passes. He had zero turnovers and threw for 235 yards, which was his third-best total in a shaky season. He could have had better numbers, but missed several open receivers deep, notably Vernon Davis on a fourth quarter bomb to the end zone. 49ers pass catchers were open throughout the night.
The Redskins' front seven also had little help from the offense. Robert Griffin III did not look settled at any point during the night, going 17-for-27 for 127 yards (just 4.7 yards per attempt) and an ugly first quarter interception. Griffin's individual struggles may have capped the team's success on the ground. The team normally averages 5.1 yards per carry, but was held to 3.7 by the 49ers. Alfred Morris had just 14 carries for 52 yards. His 3.7 YPC was a season low, and he has only had fewer carries in two other games this season.
The Redskins quickly lost any incentive to attempt to run the ball. The 49ers took a 17-6 lead early in the third quarter, and Washington began relying almost entirely on Griffin's passing ability. Morris carried the ball just four times for 12 yards in the second half. Griffin himself didn't contribute much on the ground. He had six carries for 22 yards, mostly coming on uncalled scrambles.
Unfortunately for fans, an intriguing battle of two successful running games never materialized. The 49ers were limited largely by the Redskins defense, and the Redskins were limited by circumstance. The result, perhaps unsurprisingly, was two of the worst total offensive performances by both teams this season. The 49ers' 304 total yards was just below their already paltry 309-yard average. The Redskins' 190 total yards was easily a season low.
With the running backs rendered null, the game hinged on the play at quarterback. Kaepernick was able to hit more often, and the 49ers' moved a step closer to making the playoffs as a result.