In no game on the Week 7 NFL schedule will production from the running back position be as pivotal as it will be on Thursday night when the San Francisco 49ers (4-2) take on the Seattle Seahawks (4-2).
The 49ers, ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 176.8, and the Seahawks, ranked seventh with 131.0, both rely heavily on the run game to control the tempo and take pressure off of passing games ranked 26th and 31st, respectively.
Gore, 29, no longer has a monopoly on the carries in San Francisco, but he's still averaging almost 80 yards a contest this season. On 87 rushes, Gore has produced the eighth-most rushing yards in the NFL at 470 and fifth-most rushing touchdowns with five.
No stranger to big games when facing Seattle, Gore has put together two of the top performances of his NFL career against the Seahawks in San Francisco.
Back in 2006, Gore rushed for career-high 212 yards on 24 carries during a 20-14 49ers win over Seattle. Three years later, Gore went for 207 and two touchdowns on just 16 carries in a 23-10 win. The two games represent the only times in Gore's career in which he has gone over 200 yards.
That said, the Seahawks did a fine job of bottling up Gore in last season's opener in San Francisco.
Gore rushed 22 times for just 59 yards, but the 49ers went on to win 33-17 anyway.
In 12 career games against the Seahawks, Gore has rushed for 1,079 yards and four touchdowns while catching 46 passes for 371 yards. The rushing and receiving yardage against the Seahawks are Gore's top numbers against any of the 32 NFL teams.
However, sledding will be difficult for Gore against the NFL's second-best run defense in 2012 (70.0 yards/game). Seattle has yet to allow an opponent to go over 100 yards in a single game this season.
Lynch won't have it much easier, although the 49ers showed some chinks in their rushing armor on Sunday.
The 49ers dropped all the way down to ninth in the NFL against the run (92.7 yards/game) after Ahmad Bradshaw and the New York Giants rushed for 149 yards in Sunday's 26-3 win over San Francisco. Bradshaw's 116 yards marked the first time in 22 games that the 49ers allowed a 100-yard rusher at home. His rushing touchdown was just the fourth over that span as well.
In fact, the 49ers were allowing an NFL-best 63.5 yards rushing in the 21 games prior to Sunday's letdown.
One could reasonably expect the 49ers to bounce back this week against a division rival.
Last season in San Francisco, the 49ers smothered Lynch, holding him to just 33 yards on 13 carries. The year before, after Seattle acquired Lynch from the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco stonewalled Lynch to the tune of 10 carries for 29 yards in a 41-20 49ers win.
Lynch did go over 100 yards against the 49ers in one game with Buffalo in 2008, then rebounded late last season to rush for 107 yards in a loss in Seattle. His 107-yard day marked the first time that San Francisco had allowed a 100-yard rusher in a game since Ryan Grant in 2009, and his rushing touchdown ended up being the first of just three scores allowed on the ground by the 49ers defense in 2011.
Another 100-yard day from Lynch on Thursday would give Seattle a golden chance to take hold of the NFC West early in this season.
Lynch, who is currently third in the NFL with 549 rushing yards, wasn't much of a factor in Seattle's Week 6 win.
In the come-from-behind win over the New England Patriots, Lynch rushed for just 41 yards on 15 carries as the Seahawks resorted to catch-up mode. He'll likely need to do more damage on the ground on Thursday night for the Seahawks to upset the 49ers on the road.
If there's anything we know about these two NFC West rivals, it's that contests between them are usually physical, wear-you-down types of football games. Running on offense and stopping the run on defense will be high on the priority list for each team.
In each of the last six games between the 49ers and Seahawks, the team with the most overall rushing yards ended up the winner. Expect that to be the story again on Thursday night, with Gore and Lynch as the leading men in deciding the outcome.
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