No Finesse For These Niners
October 26, 2003 at 12:00 AM
By Matt Faust
This isn't the 49er's team I've grown up loving.
The team of the 80's that I remember elicits memories of 55 yard touchdown passes from Montana to Rice, Roger Craig catching 90 passes a season, and final scores in the 45 point range.
No, this team bares no resemblance to the glory of the past, and it's about time. Powered by a running game that rushed for 217 yards against the defending the Super Bowl champs, the 49ers may have righted their sinking ship just in time for a playoff run.
Erickson's plan for a wide open offensive attack was scratched for a powerful ball control rushing assault that resembles the 2000 Ravens more than the 49ers of past lore. The defense was overpowering, the offensive line looked rejuvenated and the team gained the spark they have been lacking since opening day.
After six weeks of floundering, the 49ers have finally found their identity, and it's come none too soon. The 49ers have been one of the best running teams in the league the last 6 seasons, and it is about time they utilized their most potent weapons. Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow are two of the best running backs in the league, and should get the ball 25-30 times a game. The effect the two have on opposing defenses was evident last week as the constant wearing down of the Buccaneers defense with a strong a running game made the defending champions look lethargic late in the game. The two are also capable of breaking a big run at any moment, leaving the defense on their toes. Not only do Hearst and Barlow possess game-breaking potential, but a ball control attack is the perfect compliment for their young defense.
Controlling the clock with Hearst and Barlow gives the defense must needed rest and lets them utilize their best asset, their incredible speed. In three of their four losses, the 49ers have lost on their opponents' last possession of the game. Which means San Francisco needs to stay fresh late in the games, especially with as many close contests as they have been in this season. Three of the teams' four losses have been by three points or less and a fresh defense late in the game would help turn those losses into wins.
A strong rushing attack is especially helpful to a struggling offensive line. Their isn't an offensive lineman alive who doesn't like to run block and it gives them a chance to use their immense size to over power defenses, gaining confidence as they gain experience. As their confidence grows, it will open up the passing game and ease the pressure of Garcia. Garcia's numbers have been down all year, throwing eight interceptions to go along with his eight touchdowns and much of the blame goes to the offensive line. But a strong rushing attack gives Erickson a chance to pick and choose when to throw the long ball as the safety inches up to help stop the running game.
The last three super bowl champions have used ball control attacks and a strong defense to win. With the salary cap depleting team depth, one injury can severely hurt a team and controlling the clock and the game has gained much more importance in this new age of football. Teams that can run the ball and keep their defense fresh are the most successful in the league.
As much fun as the 55 yard touchdown pass is, winning is that much better.
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