By Jerrell Richardson
The two reasons for the 49ers absent running game this season has had nothing to do with their opponents (outside of Seattle). In fact, when looking at the numbers, San Francisco has actually had modest success running the ball, other than Week 1 when the Packers secondary provided no resistance to the passing game. Since then the problem has not been the ability to rush the ball, but rather the inability to stay committed to it. Part of it could be the decision to redesign the game plan due to a new skill set at the quarterback position; part of it was injuries that left the backfield thin, but after last week’s performance, there is no reason for the 49ers to continue to ignore Frank Gore and the running game.
The coaching decision to change the offensive identity of the team is still a reasonable path for this team. The problem is that until Kaepernick can get back Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, the only two current receivers with any real chemistry with Kaepernick, it can’t work. In the meantime, the team needs to revert back to the running game as their identity. Before last week this was easier said than done, as injuries left Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon as the only available backs. However, with the full stable of backs now at their disposable, and the 219 rushing yards accumulated last week, it will be impossible for the coaching staff to continue to ignore the run.
Lack of Touches For Gore Equal Losses
As a team, San Francisco did struggle against the Packers on the ground, but they kept at it. They finished with only 90 yards on 34 attempts, which is less than three yards per carry, but the balance allowed them to have tremendous success throwing the ball, and the result was a win.
Against Seattle, everything came crashing down, in part because they were facing an elite defense, but also because they gave up on the run. Frank Gore had less than 20 yards for the game, and only nine total touches. While the final score got out of hand, it was 5-0 at the half and 12-3 entering the fourth, so the score was not reason for San Francisco to abandoned the run. For the game, the team averaged 5.0 yards per carry; unfortunately they only had 20 rushing attempts.
This trend continued in the loss to the Colts. Gore finished the game with 82 yards, but was only handed the ball 11 times. To further shed light on the bad decision to stop giving Gore the ball — the team’s only scoring drive, which was their second offensive possession, was the Frank Gore show. On that drive alone, Gore had four touches, rushed for over 50 yards and set up Kendall Hunter’s 13 yard touchdown scamper. For the next three quarters he touched the ball a total of six times and the team only called 10 running plays. As with the Seahawks, the game was still well within reach entering the fourth, the team was averaging five yards per carry, and stopped running the ball.
Gore finally expressed his disapproval with the offense, and unfortunately for the Rams, just in time for last Thursday night. Against the Rams, San Francisco was committed to the run and rushed the ball 40 times. The result was an easy win, without a huge game from Colin Kaepernick. Not only did the Rams game provide a wakeup call that the coaching staff can’t ignored, but it marked the return of LaMichael James, who along with the recently activated Kendall Hunter, finally gave the 49ers their three headed rushing monster.
The commitment to run with three healthy backs, two whom are complete opposites and one who is a hybrid of both, will make the running game elite again. Gore is a patient inside runner, James is best in open space, and Hunter is a combination of them both with power and speed in his repertoire. Once all are in game shape and in a constant rotation, the running game will again be a factor.
With no concern of wearing down Gore, along with the statistical success running the ball, it’s hard to imagine Jim Harbaugh not going back to the game plan that got them to a Super Bowl a year ago. He also can’t ignore that the team has won the two games in which they kept running the ball, and lost the two games when they relied on the pass. The passing game is still on the mend and for the time being, it’s in the best interest of the team to run the ball early and often, and get back to 49er football.
For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.
Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.