When Colin Kaepernick was named the starting quarterback for the Monday Night game against Chicago many fans wondered, was it an impulse decision? Would Harbaugh regret it? After the nationally televised game in which Kaepernick threw for more than 240 yards and 2 touchdowns all the worries were put to bed.
But there was one cog in San Francisco’s offense that seemed ignored in this change, eight year runningback Frank Gore. He was a big reason for the success of the Niners run offense in the 2011 season, gaining 1,211 yards and taking a lot of the load off of once struggling quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith struggled for his first five years in the league and was practically given up on by San Francisco, until Jim Harbaugh stepped in as head coach and revamped Smith into a brilliant game manager. Smith had solid numbers in 2011, leaving it up to Gore to make the big plays, but it was Alex’s newly found confidence which was so surprising and led San Fran to the NFC Championship game.
However this year, when Kaepernick took over the offense Gore took a backseat to the dual threat quarterback. It seems that Harbaugh has fallen in love with the flame-throwing arm and unique ability to take off when the pocket collapses. But there is one problem with this new love of Harbaugh, the San Francisco offense is not built for Colin Kaepernick.
With Kaepernick under center Harbaugh fell in love with the pass offense, but Harbaugh and the pass offense are star-crossed lovers. In the two games in which Kaepernick had more than 30 passing attempts the 49ers lost both. Against both Seattle and St. Louis, the only games Kaepernick started and lost, the pass offense wasn’t a problem of use, it was a problem of excess.
Looking at the 2012 season as a whole, San Francisco won every game in which Gore was fed more than 14 times, but they lost three of the four times when he had under 14 carries. Look at the loss to the Vikings, 12 carries, loss to the Giants, 8 carries, and the loss to the Seahawks, 6 carries. Bottom line: When the Niners feed Gore they win. It does not matter which quarterback is at the helm.
Since Kaepernick took over as the starter the Niners haven’t handed the ball off less, Gore is actually averaging one more carry per game, but Harbaugh seems to have an easier time straying away from the run game. Look at the Sunday night blowout loss to the Seahawks. Gore ran the ball a season low 6 times for 28 yards. San Francisco was behind for the majority of the game but six carries is not enough no matter what the circumstances. Yes, when behind by 21 pass the ball, but when down 7 or 14 stick with Gore. He is the workhorse that wins games for the red and gold.
One does not have to look far for the game plan the 49ers must use in order to beat the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round, run the ball. In the first game of the season Gore toted the rock 16 times for 112 yards in a 30-22 win in Green Bay. The Pack also owns the 20th ranked rushing defense, while San Francisco lines up on the other side of the ball with the 4th ranked rushing offense.
The Packers have struggled mightily with the run the last two weeks. In week 17 Adrian Peterson slashed Green Bay for 199 yards and last week Peterson had a very solid 12 carries for 99 yards. If the Packers defense could not shut down Peterson after just seeing him the week before how will they react after 16 weeks without seeing Gore?
Kaepernick is a new Ferrari that is cool to play with but isn’t equipped to haul the 49ers to the promise land. Gore is a bus (no relation to Jerome Bettis) that can take the team as far as Harbaugh will let him.
Whether the Niners win or lose all depends on the vehicle that Harbaugh chooses. Choose the wrong one, the Ferrari, and Harbaugh’s season may sputter just short of the Super Bowl again.