49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

September 19, 2011
The running man: Harbaugh historically has favored the run

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Anyone surprised by Jim Harbaugh's reliance on the running game in the 49ers' first two contests hasn't been paying attention. Sure, Harbaugh is a former quarterback who became a coach known for his ability to pick out and develop quarterbacks at the college level.


But most of the college offenses he's run have favored the run, some by lopsided margins (see below). In fact, all four of his Stanford squads attempted more runs than they did passes. In 2009, for instance, when Stanford had an accomplished senior running back in Toby Gerhart and a freshman quarterback in Andrew Luck, the Cardinal rushed 527 times and attempted 312 passes. A year later when Gerhart was in the NFL and Luck was the toast of college football, that ratio shrunk a bit. But Stanford still ran the ball 480 times versus 374 pass attempts.

Harbaugh attempted more passes than runs in two of his three seasons as head coach at the University of San Diego, but the ratio was close to 50-50 all three years. The biggest discrepancy came in his first year with the Toreros when they passed the ball 413 times and ran it 384 times.

Harbaugh on Monday said he was shooting for "a 50-50 ratio or darn near close" with the 49ers. Through two games, the 49ers have attempted 44 passes and run the ball 56 times. That's due, in part at least, to the fact that the 49ers have taken early leads in both their games and have tried to salt the clock in the second halves.

Very few teams in the league, however, can maintain such a ratio through a full season. Last year, only four teams - the Raiders, Chiefs, Jets and Jaguars - attempted more runs than passes. The 49ers, meanwhile, a team that wanted to "impose their will" on opponents in the running game, ran the ball 401 times and passed it 500 times.

Harbaugh run-pass ratios:

2010: 480 runs vs. 374 passes
2009: 527 runs vs. 312 passes
2008: 477 runs vs. 287 passes
2007: 434 runs vs. 423 passes

San Diego
2006: 372 runs vs. 388 passes
2005: 408 runs vs. 400 passes
2004: 384 runs vs. 413 passes

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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