The ground game is going to be an essential factor in determining whether the Baltimore Ravens or San Francisco 49ers win Super Bowl XLVII.
San Francisco had one of the best run offenses in the NFL during the regular season, averaging more than 150 yards per game. Baltimore, on the other hand, wasn’t bad either, but they only averaged close to 120 yards on the ground per game.
During the postseason, however, both teams have stepped up their run games. The 49ers have run for 472 yards over two games while the Ravens are averaging close to 150 yards per game during the postseason.
San Francisco and Baltimore both have good run defenses, and there’s going to be a big battle up front each time a running back gets a carry. Here’s a look at how each running back will fare, going up against a conference champion’s defense.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens: 21 Attempts, 85 Yards, 1 Touchdown
Ray Rice is going to have an extremely tough time finding space to run against the San Francisco defense. The 49ers allowed the fourth-fewest yards on the ground during the regular season and have sustained that success through the postseason.
Rice has been inconsistent throughout the playoffs thus far. He averaged more than four yards per carry in Baltimore’s first two postseason matchups—running for a season high of 131 yards against the Denver Broncos—but was horrible against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. There, he gained less than 50 yards on the ground on 19 attempts, an average of 2.5 yards per carry.
Denver did have one of the best run defenses during the year, and Rice ate them up pretty well, but I wouldn’t expect a similar result against San Francisco. They’re much too versatile and quick for Rice to handle and he’ll have a somewhat average day. He’ll end up scoring once on the day, but it will be from within 15 yards of the end zone.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers: 24 Attempts, 118 Yards, 2 Touchdowns
Baltimore tends to give up big yardage on the ground nowadays, and making big plays is exactly what Frank Gore will look to do against the Ravens. The Ravens gave up an average of 122 yards on the ground per game during the regular season and haven’t been much better in the playoffs.
Gore had a great regular season, running for more than 1,200 yards on 258 attempts and scoring eight times. He played very well against the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, totaling 209 yards and three scores through the two matchups.
Although Colin Kaepernick takes off running often, Gore has still been getting around 20 carries per game. That shouldn’t change on Sunday when Gore goes up against Ray Lewis and the dangerous Ravens defense. He should touch his average of around five yards per carry against Baltimore and get into the end zone twice—once on a 20-yard dash and another from a few yards out.
Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens: 10 Attempts, 68 Yards
Bernard Pierce has been an excellent complement to Rice this season and deserves a chance at a starting job in the near future. But for now, let’s focus on how he’ll do running against the 49ers.
Throughout the regular season, Pierce was averaged just less than five yards per carry on the ground. He’s not much of a big-play threat but is reliable and almost always does what’s asked of him. On 108 attempts during the year, Pierce ran for 532 yards with just one touchdown.
Pierce’s workload in the postseason, however, has increased substantially. He only averaged around six carries per game during the regular season but is getting close to 10 attempts now that the Ravens are bidding for a Super Bowl victory. On 27 playoff touches, Pierce has gained 169 yards—an average of 6.3 per carry.
While Rice won’t have a standout game, Pierce will, although he won’t be able to find the end zone. Even still, Pierce should average around six or seven yards per carry on 10 or so attempts.