Eight in box no excuse for 49ers' offense

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers have failed to exceed 3.3 yards per carry in four of their six games this season.

The reason?

"We haven’t been able to run the ball when we wanted to run the ball because they normally have about eight-and-a-half people in the box, sometimes nine," coach Mike Singletary told reporters this week. "Sometimes, that makes it a little more difficult. When you have an offensive line that’s been banged up and you’re trying to get that right, it makes for not a good combination right now, but as we build confidence, as we continue to get better, it will work itself out."

Here's the thing: The 49ers are not facing eight-man fronts every play or even most of the time. They are struggling to run the ball against fewer than eight in the box. Their guards are not very good, in my view, and Singletary has even threatened to bench one of them (Chilo Rachal).

ESPN Stats & Information saw the Texans put eight in the box against the 49ers only four times in Week 7. The 49ers passed on one of those plays. Frank Gore gained 9 yards on one of the three rushes. I watched the game again this morning and found a couple other plays when Houston arguably had eight defenders close enough to the line of scrimmage to qualify as playing eight-man fronts.

Still, it's misleading to suggest box counts are the reason San Francisco isn't a very good running team right now. Gore's injury problems this season have not helped.

Also, opponents can have an advantage with seven or fewer defenders in the box if the defense doesn't have to fear the passing game. This has certainly been a problem for the 49ers. That could change if Alex Smith plays well at quarterback and receiver Michael Crabtree develops quickly.

Earlier: Smith vs. Shaun Hill in the 49ers' offense.