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49ers No. 1 Rush Attack Faces No. 2 Rush 'D'

Posted Nov 7, 2013

San Francisco's No. 1 ranked rushing attack meets the NFL's No. 2 rush defense this Sunday at Candlestick Park.

After a 1-2 start, the first losing record in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as San Francisco’s head coach, the 49ers had the NFL’s No. 18 ranked rushing attack, averaging 101.7 yards per game.

The team has since reeled off five consecutive wins and now sits atop the NFL’s rush rankings, averaging 153 yards per game.

The 49ers placement wasn’t immediately known by San Francisco’s future Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore, but once the franchise’s rushing king caught wind of it, Gore immediately smiled.

“I know it now,” Gore said. “Yeah, I love it. We have to keep going.”

The 49ers have pounded out 68 first downs on the ground this season, tied for third-most in the NFL. The commitment to the running game has been instrumental in moving the chains, scoring touchdowns and winning ball games. San Francisco leads the NFL with 15 rushing scores, three more than the next closest team.

In the eyes of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the success points to 11 players working together in unison, not just a talented offensive line with five, Pro Bowl-caliber players.

“I know everything gets over-examined so much and everything seems to get titrated down to one thing, but it’s not,” Roman said. “It’s a lot of different things. It’s the blocking of our wide receivers, which is not often commented on or acknowledged, but it’s very important.

“If you’re not carrying the ball, you’re blocking somebody. The quarterback’s blocking somebody with a fake, with maybe getting us out of a bad play and into a better play, if that were to happen.”

Roman applauded Gore for his consistent play and the cohesion of the star running back playing off his blockers, which includes tight ends like Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald, plus fullback Bruce Miller.

“We’re very fortunate to have that stable to where you can move, mix, match, move people around and kind of shuffle the shells around as they say,” Roman added. “So, it’s a lot of different reasons, but we’re just getting started. It’s halfway through the season and we’ve got a lot of improvement to make.”

The top ranking isn’t discussed in the offensive line’s meeting room. It’s just an expectation that goes unsaid.

“With the talent we have and as hard as we work, it’s expected out of each other,” right tackle Anthony Davis said. “We feel if we work as hard as we do with the coaches we have and the talent we have, that’s what’s going to happen.”

San Francisco’s elite rushing attack, now increasing its utilization of zone-read schemes, will face another tough challenge this Sunday. The Carolina Panthers come to Candlestick Park with the NFL’s No. 2 rush defense, allowing 79 yards per game.

Besides fast personnel, led by inside linebacker Luke Kuechly and stout first-round defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Carolina’s defense is unafraid of playing a seven-man box.

“I really believe they think they can stop the run with a seven-man front and they’ve been doing that quite well,” Roman said. “And that’s always, from a football perspective if you’re a defensive coordinator and you feel good about playing seven-man spacing against an offense and stopping the run game, man you are living large. You’re playing with house money. And it’s going to be a challenge because they’re the best team we’ve seen that plays the run in seven-man spacing.”

If the Panthers elect to play a seven-man defense against the 49ers, the challenge will not be lost on the home team.

“They’re a good front seven,” Davis said. “They feel they don’t need eight to stop the run, so we’ll see how that goes.”

When it comes down to it, a matchup of No. 1 rush offense vs. No. 2 rush defense is nothing more than statistics.

“We’re just going to go do what we do,” Davis said. “You can do anything with graphs and charts, we have to go play football.”

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