The San Francisco 49ers have now powered their way through four consecutive victories with smashmouth football. While the 49ers had to fly overseas to take on the winless Jacksonville Jaguars in London, the team should remain on the ground in this Week 8 contest.
Simply stated, the Jaguars are ranked dead last against the run according to ESPN.com. Facing an opponent allowing 153.3 yards per game on the ground, it's easy to imagine running back Frank Gore running wild all over the United Kingdom.
According to RotoWorld.com, Gore practiced in full on Thursday and has been upgraded to probable for Sunday's game. Gore had previously been held out of practice on Wednesday, seemingly as a simple day off.
While the field conditions have been less than ideal overseas, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, a sloppy turf could actually work in favor of a power offense.
Just as teams turn to the ground in inclement weather, the 49ers should rely on their deep stable of backs to combat a potentially soggy field. If the 49ers can build an early lead, Gore should be able to wear out the defense with persistent and smart running.
Now, Gore isn't coming off of his sexiest stat line so far this year, averaging only 2.9 yards per carry against Tennessee in Week 7. However, he did punch in two touchdowns and earned a plus-2.3 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for a strong overall performance.
With the passing game struggling outside of wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, perhaps it would be wise to also involve Gore in the passing game. Even better, maybe reserve backs Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James could get in on the action as well.
While Davis has been a revelation with his recent performances, the 49ers still have not been able to consistently move the ball through the air. For the fifth time in seven games, quarterback Colin Kaepernick failed to pass for 200 or more yards.
Then again, when your fullback is ranked fourth on the team in targets, it points to bigger issues:
Wide receiver Mario Manningham is expected back after the upcoming bye week, according to Bill Williamson of ESPN. That should help the ailing downfield game, but the 49ers will most likely have to press through at least one more contest without him.
Of course, the Jaguars and their 14th-ranked pass defense could make that easier.
Overall, Jacksonville has allowed opponents to score 34 points or more on four occasions this season, averaging 31.7 points allowed per game. That average is worst in the league by almost a full point.
This is a team that has been losing ugly, even when they do play fairly well. Beyond their obvious struggles against the run, the Jaguars have also had trouble with one specific facet of the passing game: covering tight ends.
|Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tight Ends in 2013|
|Week 5||St. Louis||8||80||1|
|Week 7||San Diego||9||76||0|
While these numbers represent all tight ends on the opposing team, consider some of the members of that group. If San Diego's Antonio Gates and Denver's Julius Thomas found space to work with, Davis should have plenty of opportunities as well.
Davis' current hot streak includes 17 catches, 348 yards and four touchdowns in the last four games. For the 49ers, this should look like a recipe for success.
However, even with Davis on pace for his best season since his Pro Bowl appearance in 2009, the 49ers should try to experiment with more options in the passing game. Manningham and still-sidelined receiver Michael Crabtree are both coming off of major injuries, and it's never unwise to have a Plan B.
That said, Gore has proven to be a capable receiver in the past, including five seasons with 43 or more receptions. In contrast, he has been limited to just seven this season.
While the 49ers most likely want to preserve their 30-year-old back, a few receptions in the open field won't take too much of a toll. As another option, Hunter was also praised coming out of college for his abilities as a receiver.
The fact of the matter is this: Gore, Hunter and James all have speed and elusiveness that fullback Bruce Miller simply can't match. If the backfield is going to be involved in the passing game, it should be that three-headed monster rather than Miller.
For this week at least, the receivers shouldn't have to do too much to put up points against Jacksonville. Mismatches at tight end and running back should allow the 49ers to command the tempo of this game.
If Gore and Davis can continue their torrid stretches, the 49ers' win streak should continue into a well-deserved bye week.