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The 49ers can't afford to stop pounding the ball on the ground.
Here's something that no one has ever said: “The San Francisco 49ers are at their best when Alex Smith throws 35 times a game.”
And yet, against Minnesota, the 49ers went completely away from what's helped them to a 16-4 record over their past 20 regular season games. They ignored the running game.
The 49ers play their best football when Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter shoulder most of the team's offensive load. Unless the ground game really isn't working, Alex Smith should only be throwing the ball 20 or 25 times a game.
But San Francisco employed a pass-heavy strategy against the Vikings, and it failed spectacularly. Despite averaging 4.5 yards per carry, the 49ers ran the ball just 20 times and let Smith throw 35 passes.
The scoreboard speaks for itself.
Unless they get down big, there's just no reason for the 49ers to start slinging passes, especially if the running game is working as well as it did against Minnesota.
The entire game plan was perplexing. It's something that Harbaugh (and offensive coordinator Greg Roman) needed to learn from, and it certainly looked like they did when they played the Jets.
San Francisco ran the ball 44 times against New York, racking up 244 yards against the Jets' helpless defense. Rich Cimini of ESPN New York wrote about New York head coach Rex Ryan, saying:
On Monday, Ryan counted 17 missed tackles by his defense, saying that for the first time in his career he actually wanted the opponent to pass the ball against his defense.
That's how opponents should always feel against the 49ers. The 49ers should pound the running game to the extent that opposing coaches are actually begging San Francisco to throw it.
A ground-and-pound offense sparked the 49ers' NFC Championship run last year, and there's no reason that they should abandon it now.