49ers' reliance on Frank Gore may have turned their season around
And what's Halloween without a little Gore?
Apparently, San Francisco got the message after their ghoulish performances against Seattle and Indianapolis. The reigning NFC Champs were outscored 56-10 in back-to-back games in September. The offensive output was pathetic enough for veteran running back Frank Gore to raise his hand and say, "hey, let's not forget I'm here."
The Niners gave the ninth-year pro 20 carries against St. Louis in Week 4. He responded with 153 yards rushing. The team outgained the Rams 219-to-18 and they managed to snap their streak of offensive floundering to the tune of a 35-11 divisional victory.
They're now back on top of the roller coaster, having won two straight games by a combined score of 79-14.
It's no secret: Teams have fallen in love with the forward pass. Fans have as well, and for good reason. The league's rule changes favor throwing the football. And last year, the league's latest crush was on quarterbacks who could throw and run. With 65 percent of plays being passes now, and with some signal callers running the ball ten times per game, the quarterback was fast becoming responsible for nearly the entire offense. And San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick was labeled one these guys.
Problem was: Despite all the preseason hype, the "Kaepernick-can-do-it-all" plan wasn't working in September.
Score one for old school football.
Not only has Gore had 37 carries for 238 yards the last two weeks, Kaepernick has watched his pass attempts drop with each game, from 39 in Week 1 to 28, 27, 23 and 15. He's also gone from an average of eight runs per game during the first three weeks of the season to two per game during the team's active two-game win streak.
And with the Cardinals on the schedule this week, I doubt the 49ers are going to change what's been working.
Unless, of course, the Cardinals defense forces a change.
Arizona ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. The unit held Tampa Bay's Doug Martin to a season-low 45 yards rushing two weeks ago, and Carolina's DeAngelo Williams to 39 yards last week. And with linebacker Daryl Washington back, the Cardinals defense looked like a different beast Sunday -- one with fangs and no regard for human life.
So, here lies your key to the game Sunday. Frank Gore and the decision to reduce Colin Kaepernick's monster role in the offense seems to have turned the Niners' season around. If the Cards run defense can take away San Francisco's new offensive identity, does San Francisco revert back to the original Kaepernick plan, or do the Cardinals leave their rivals searching mid-game for a third method for moving the football?
Either way, the game plan for stopping the 49ers looks to be a far cry from what Cardinals' defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was anticipating when the season began.
Trick or treat?
Chuck Powell, KTAR.com & ArizonaSports.com contributor