49ers balance bests Miami, 27-13
The NFL’s number two rushing offense entered the game debuting a new back up and an off-season beast of an acquisition “rotting away.” As much as any team would want to give Frank Gore the rock for 25 to 30 carries a game, the San Francisco 49ers understand how much they need their workhorse down the back stretch of the 2012 season. With backups Kendall Hunter on IR and Brandon Jacobs complaining on Instagram, the Niners displayed patience and used the opening half of their match up with the Miami Dolphins to toss the ball around the field.
QB Colin Kaepernick continued his development by targeting Michael Crabtree for 5 receptions for 62 yards. A first round bye and a deep run in the playoffs depend solely on his steady improvement in the passing game. The Niners only handed the ball off 8 times for a total of 38 yards, while completing 12 passes for 120 yards. Routinely faced by eight men in the box, the Niners gladly took what the defense offered and prepped their young QB for the rigors of the playoffs, namely the prospect of a defense that will not allow him and his offense to operate in their comfort zone. Kaepernick stayed efficient, completing 12 of 15 passes. Although the Niners only managed six points and looked a bit confused at times, they did not turnover the ball, even covering a fumble by CK7.
The Niners flipped the script and spent a run heavy second half piling up the remaining 20 of the game’s 28 carries. LaMichael James gained 30 yards spelling Frank Gore. Gore gained 1,000 yards for the 6th straight season and tied the SF career TD record with his 50th. Kaepernick even added a 50-yard keeper on a read-option to put the game in the fridge. After Dolphin Anthony Fasano laid out in the corner of the end zone for a one-handed grab to get the Dolphins within a TD, CK7 decided to lock down the W and stay ahead of the red-hot Seahawks in the division at 9-3-1. The O finished with 166 yards through the air and 155 on the ground.
Miami mistakes helped the Niners cause as well. Two consecutive false starts on 1st and goal by each offensive tackle to end the 1st quarter pushed them into a field goal. A touchback on a punt destined for downing at the 3-yard line placed the ball on the 20 with 3:15 to go in the 2nd quarter. SF turned it into a 6-3 after an Akers field goal to end the half. A pass interference on 4th and 1 with 1:45 to go in the 3rd extended the Niner drive, leading to an Anthony Dixon TD dive after Gore shot up the middle on a draw for 19 and came a yard short of his 51st career TD.
A two-game road trip into New England and Seattle, two exceedingly and extremely hostile places to play, will rigorously test the Niners offense. As their incredible defense comes up with stops against Brady and Wilson, San Francisco will need to find ways to extend drives and give the D as many extended breathers as possible. Converting 2 out of 10 third downs might work against teams under .500, but will not against the elite on the road.
Jonathan Cha is an NFL writer for TPF. He expects teams to establish the run as much as possible since 4 yards at a time guarantees a high third down efficiency rating. He can be contacted at JCha@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com.