49ers: Why Running the Football Early and Often Will Be Crucial


Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) scores on a touchdown run past Atlanta Falcons strong safety William Moore (25) and Thomas DeCoud (28) during the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the playoffs, a lot of fans, including me, were worried sick about Greg Roman’s pass-happy nature and how the San Francisco 49ers would fare because of it.

However, Roman got his act together and did an incredible job calling plays against the Packers and Falcons. As a result, San Francisco is off to New Orleans and into the Super Bowl.

San Francisco was down 17-0 and in dire need of help against the Falcons in the NFC Championship, and it could have been easy for Roman, who had Frank Gore run six times in a similar situation against Seattle in Week 16, to put the game in the hands of Colin Kaepernick and only Kaepernick. However, he resisted the urge.

And because he did, the 49ers won.

Frank Gore never had a huge hole, but he fought for every yard and set up manageable situations on second and third down for the passing game. Gore took the ball into the end zone twice, and LaMichael James averaged 6.8 YPC and scored once. And Anthony Dixon converted a key third down on San Francisco’s game-winning drive, making the running game the real reason behind San Francisco’s rally.

Gore was never a fan of the pistol, but he has adjusted in the nick of time and accumulated 209 yards in the postseason, while finding the end zone three times. LaMichael James is perfect for the pistol, as he can burst through holes if the offense is run correctly.

Kendall Hunter is also a great fit, but the injury bug got to him and sidelined him for the season. However, the 49ers don’t need him for the Super Bowl. They’re just fine.

Colin Kaepernick is obviously a threat to run, because quarterbacks don’t run for 181 yards in a game, let alone a playoff game, if they’re not a legitimate threat to run. Kaepernick’s running ability played a big part in him completing over 76 percent of his passes for 233 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta, because Falcon linebackers stayed close to the line of scrimmage to try and stop the quarterback scramble, but they ended up leaving semi-deep routes over the middle with one-on-one coverage.

It will help to get Kaepernick running too, but Raven linebackers, notably Ray Lewis, will be intent on stopping Kaepernick from running on designed passes. However, on the read-option, which Kaepernick is great at running, Kaepernick needs to establish himself as a running threat. All it will do is open up those same semi-deep passes, and, much more importantly, holes for Gore.

If Kaepernick runs on the Ravens out of the read-option and picks up yardage, it will be key. The read-option is so hard to stop because only one or two guys have a chance to make a play, and Gore can get by one or two guys without much problem. He rarely ever loses yards, and against a Raven defense that ranked 20th against the run during the regular season, he should have his way.

James should too, because even though he doesn’t get tons of carries, he is a great change-of-pace back with great breakaway speed and a surprising ability to fight for the extra yard and break tackles. Anthony Dixon only has two playoff carries, but he used those carries for a touchdown against Green Bay and, as I mentioned, a key first down against Atlanta.

If Gore is hurt and a bigger back is needed for a short-yardage situation, Dixon can take the ball. San Francisco is stacked at running back, and they have the talent to establish the run early, open up lanes for Kaepernick and keep the Ravens off-balance with an abundance of runs and some perfectly timed pass calls.

It’s great to see Kaepernick throw the ball, but he doesn’t need to throw all the time. He still did very well against Atlanta with only 21 throws. He can’t win the game alone, and Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and the experienced Raven secondary will pounce if he makes mistakes. However, running the ball consistently and setting up manageable passing situations, like 3rd and 5 or 2nd and 7, will pay dividends for the 49ers.

Baltimore isn’t backing down, and any flaw will be exploited by John Harbaugh, one of the best coaches in the NFL, and his staff. Not establishing the run and expecting a quarterback to single-handidly win the Super Bowl in his 10th start is unrealistic, so the 49ers need to pound the ball, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Because if the 49ers could find running lanes and run the ball when down 17 on the road, they can certainly do it in the Super Bowl.