San Francisco 49ers: Why Running Game Will Be Critical Against Titans in Week 7
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When the San Francisco 49ers were going through their difficult stretch of Weeks 2 and 3, the team needed to get back to the basics and return to doing what made them successful in the first place.
On offense, that meant utilizing a power running game complimented by an opportunistic pass attack.
San Francisco will need to employ the same philosophy against the Tennessee Titans in Week 7.
Let us examine the statistics that the 49ers are facing during this particular matchup.
For starters, the 49ers get the most out of their offense when running back Frank Gore and company are moving the ball effectively on the ground. As tweeted by San Jose Mercury News columnist Cam Inman back on October 2, San Francisco is 9-0 (and 0-1 in the Super Bowl) when Gore rushes for 100 or more yards.
#49ers are 9-0 since 2011 when Frank Gore rushes for over 100 yards in a regular-season game; 0-1 in Super Bowls.— Cam Inman (@CamInman) October 2, 2013
After his 101-yard performance against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6, the 49ers improved to 10-0.
Gore is averaging 4.63 yards per carry this season and his immediate backup Kendall Hunter is averaging 4.00.
San Francisco will take that production on the road against a 3-3 Titans team that is ranked 21st in the NFL in rushing yards allowed—667 yards to date.
With the exception of Week 1 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee has given up over 90 yards per game. In four games, the Titans have allowed over 100 yards rushing.
It is safe to surmise that the 49ers will plan on utilizing the running game early and often during this game.
We already know how important it is for San Francisco to have a successful ground attack. The run game takes pressure off of the passing game and forces opponents to respect the 49ers' backs. It helps set up play action and gives quarterback Colin Kaepernick more opportunities with the read-option.
Further evaluating Tennessee's defense gives us more insight into why rushing the ball will be critical.
Despite being 21st in the league against the run, the Titans are ranked 11th in pass yards against. Like the Houston Texans back in Week 5, Tennessee is solid against the pass but not so stellar against the run game.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation agrees. He writes:
On the offensive side of the ball, it will come down to the 49ers imposing their will in the run game. Even if the Titans defensive line is playing well, they will have to deal with the overwhelming physicality of the 49ers offensive line. The Titans defensive line is actually 30th in adjusted line yards, so look for the 49ers to continue their recent physical rushing attack.
San Francisco exploited this against Houston and should expect to do so once more against the Titans.
One might say that this argument is redundant—perhaps it is. Running the ball is almost always critical, especially when a team is not generating a consistent rhythm through the air.
Yet in the 49ers' case, this is ever more apparent.
Even at 30 years old, Gore remains the "bell cow" on offense. Yes, Kaepernick will still look to Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis through the air, but Gore remains the key component on the offensive side of the ball.
Take San Francisco's performance against Arizona as an example of what the 49ers can do when this element is working correctly.
The 49ers were unable to generate much rhythm on offense during the first quarter against the Cardinals. That changed in the second quarter when Davis became the primary weapon of San Francisco's offense.
Yet the marquee drive of the game started at the end of the third quarter when the 49ers were able to institute an 18-play drive—the longest in the NFL this season.
Gore gained most of his yards during that particular drive and those effects were more than apparent.
#49ers Frank Gore has 84 of his 104 rushing yards in the second half.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) October 13, 2013
That drive sealed San Francisco's victory.
Textbook blocks were made by Vernon Davis, Bruce Miller and Anquan Boldin on 18-play TD drive that sealed #49ers win, Jim Harbaugh said— Cam Inman (@CamInman) October 14, 2013
Looking forward, the 49ers should examine what effect this drive—and the running game in particular—will have upon their Week 7 matchup. Maintaining possession and taking time off the clock will again be critical.
To quote head coach Jim Harbaugh, as stated through CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, “Playing tough, hardnosed football,” and “grinding out the running game, pounding, pounding the meat, grinding the meat,” should continue to be an element to San Francisco's offensive approach.
So what exactly happens if the 49ers look to emulate their success from Weeks 5 and 6?
If Gore is able to establish the running game early, all of those aforementioned pieces may fall into place. Tennessee will be forced to pay more attention to San Francisco's running backs and respect Kaepernick's ability to rush as well—something that Titans head coach Mike Munchak is already considering.
With those elements potentially working, the 49ers' 28th-ranked pass offense may be able to develop some rhythm. True, we have not seen this portion of San Francisco's offense click that much this season, but the potential is still there.
They just have to establish the running game first.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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