Four of the 49ers’ next five games will be on the road beginning Monday night in St. Louis. That’s a daunting prospect for most NFL teams, but one that Jim Harbaugh’s squads have handled with rare aplomb in the past.
Since Harbaugh and his staff arrived in 2011, the 49ers have won 70 percent of their games in their opponent’s building, including playoffs, the best record in the NFL. The rival Seahawks, for example, have won 50 percent of their road games during the same span.
One key to their success: The 49ers have been led by their defense in recent years. It’s easier for that unit to play in a hostile environment because it is unaffected by crowd noise.
“Packing the defense. That’s what they always say, ‘You’ve got to pack the defense,’” linebacker Dan Skuta said when asked about the team’s road prowess. “We’ve got a great defense, and we always show up on the road.”
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Last year, for example, the 49ers’ road opponents averaged 16.3 points a game, which was better than the 17-point average the 49ers allowed overall in 2013. But the offense also was better away from home last season, averaging 26.8 points per game as opposed to 25.4 overall.
With Harbaugh, the 49ers have not overanalyzed the issue as was the case with previous coaching staffs, which came up with elaborate ways – practicing with noise-canceling earplugs, for example – to deal with road games.
“I think it’s the guys coming together, realizing we’re on a business trip and focusing in,” safety Craig Dahl said. “(Coaches) try to put a lot of stress on us in practice if we’re going somewhere real hostile. There’s an emphasis on it, but there’s not a lot of attention brought to it.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio simply cited “good players” when asked for the reason for the road success.
“You’re probably not a good player if you’re put off by distractions, if you get flustered when you go on the road,” he said. “That’s all part of being a good player.”
Last year’s 8-3 road record is particularly impressive considering the 49ers traveled farther – by a wide margin – than any other team. The season included a trip to London and four visits to the Eastern time zone. By the end of the season, the 49ers had covered more than 40,000 miles, nearly twice the circumference of the planet.
This year’s itinerary is far less taxing. There’s only one trip to the East Coast – Nov. 16 against the New York Giants – and one of the road games will involve a 32-mile bus ride to visit the Raiders. In all, the 49ers will cover 19,814 miles in the regular season. That’s their lightest season of travel since 2002.
Osgood’s back – As forecast by Harbaugh on Thursday, the 49ers on Friday re-signed return-coverage specialist Kassim Osgood, who was cut Wednesday to make room for fellow special teamer Ray Ventrone. The 49ers released quarterback Josh Johnson to make room for Osgood.
Why not release Johnson initially and save a couple of roster moves? Harbaugh would not say.
One explanation may be that the 49ers were leery of the St. Louis Rams, a team that has had injuries at quarterback, signing Johnson early in the week and then getting information out of him as they prepared for Monday’s game.
After all, former Rams safety Dahl received criticism from his old teammates last year when he admitted, after being signed by the 49ers, that San Francisco debriefed him about the Rams’ defensive strategy soon after he arrived in Santa Clara.
Osgood has been released three times this year; Johnson has been released twice.
Injuries – Tight end Vernon Davis (back) practiced Friday, increasing the likelihood he will play Monday. Neither tackle Anthony Davis (ankle, knee) nor cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe) practiced.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.