Running Game? What Running Game?
September 13, 2005 at 12:00 AM
I'll admit it, I was wrong. I really thought the Rams were going to win Sunday. Instead, (to my Ram loving uncle's chagrin) the 49ers managed to pull off a great upset and now are in sole possession of first place in the NFC West. I was wrong and I am now here to admit to the error of my ways.
Eh, I was never good at completely conceding an argument. So here I am again to say I was still right, even though I was wrong.
How can that be, you ask? You can't be right AND wrong can you? This throws logic on its head! Not quite. The 49ers still couldn't run the ball on the Rams. The 49ers tried 21 times to run the ball on the Rams but they only averaged a paltry 1.6 yards per carry. Barlow, the starting running back, was the cause of much of that, himself averaging 1.6 YPC.
Interestingly enough, rookie Frank Gore, running behind the same "suspect" offensive line that doesn't open any holes for starter Kevan Barlow averaged 4.3 yards a carry on 4 rushes. If Barlow doesn't start to produce soon, look for him to start riding the pine.
The fact that the 49ers couldn't run the ball made the game a lot closer than it had to be. Tim Rattay was able to pick apart a Rams' secondary that limped into the game completing 68.7% of his passes. Rattay averaged 10.3 yards every time he threw the ball.
Once the 49ers were ahead, Mike Martz did the only thing he can do, flail away and hope that the big top doesn't fall on the "greatest show on turf." In this case the big top was the 49ers' cover 2 defense, and it definitely took away the deep ball, allowing only two pass plays of 20 or more yards on 56 attempts. Once that happened, the linebackers were able to tee-off (sound familiar?) and rack up the sacks. Rattay's efficient passing substituted for an anemic running game and forced the Rams into being a one-dimensional team.
While I thought that the 49ers rush defense would buckle like The Jenny Craig Club in a candy store, they were able to neutralize Steven Jackson after a 43-yard first half. This was due, in part, to the fact that the Rams passed over 35 times in the second half while only running it 9 times. Nevertheless though, the Rams only averaged 3.4 YPC the whole game, definitely a win for the defense.
Getting the win, something this team has not been able to do in regulation since 2003, is a fantastic feeling. While this is definitely not a 2-14 team it is also not a playoff team. Not yet anyway. Quite simply the 49ers have to find a way to establish the run. Mike Nolan is trying to find the identity of the team and so far the only phrases that are tossed around by sportscasters and fans a like are "bend but don't break" and "gimmicky offense." Sooner or later the 49ers will have to put teams away with the run game, sooner or later they will have to find away to keep the offense on the field for longer than 20 minutes, sooner or later the defense is going to have to force more than one three and out in a game.
It was an impressive performance by a young 49ers squad. They were able to do some things no one expected, but then again, they also did some things that were expected. I was wrong this time but if the 49ers don't find their rushing game soon opposing teams will never be out of the game, just lurking in the wings. Imagine what would have happened had the 49ers been able to string together a couple of first downs at the end of the game. The game would have probably been a blowout.
Next time, the 49er can't rely on a lucky tip to end the game. They have to, and should be able to, put the game away themselves.
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