NEW ORLEANS -- So much of the attention focused on the 49ers' offense this week has been squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Colin Kaepernick (he's a read-option rookie!), backup quarterback Alex Smith (“This week is bittersweet!”) and receiver Randy Moss (oh, he can talk -- and he says he's better than Jerry Rice!).
But none of those guys (and throw in tight end Vernon Davis and receiver Michael Crabtree while you're at it) is the most important player that the Ravens will face Sunday. No, in Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees' eyes, the man who needs the most attention is running back Frank Gore.
Maybe that seems obvious. But with so much of the chatter here this week focused on the San Francisco quarterbacks, if anybody in history has been better than Moss, and the Ray Lewis deer-antler scandal, it has been easy to forget about Gore.
“Everyone talks about No. 7 [Kaepernick],” Pees said. “But 21 [Gore] can beat you just as easy as 7 can, and he's still, to me, the main focus.”
In the postseason, though, Kaepernick has been more explosive. He has gained 202 rushing yards to Gore's 209, but Kaepernick also has rushed the ball 26 fewer times than Gore. While Gore's 4.8 yards-per-carry average in the postseason is more than solid, Kaepernick is gaining an astronomical 11.2 yards per rush.
In the regular season, Gore, once again, was fantastic, gaining 1,214 yards (a 4.7 average) to go with eight touchdowns. But now that the 49ers are running the read option with Kaepernick at quarterback, Gore is no longer the focal point of the team's offense. Or is he?
“That's what it all comes down to: stopping that run,” Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones. “Frank Gore runs that offense. He's a hard runner, and then they change it up a little with [backup] LaMichael James. It's up to us up front to dominate the line of scrimmage up front and stop the run.”
Even when the 49ers haven't run the ball effectively, Kaepernick has proven his arm is an effective way for San Francisco to win. But that probably is a chance the Ravens will take. Keep Kaepernick from getting to the edge on quarterback keepers, and contain Gore in the middle of the line of scrimmage and hope Kaepernick's arm isn't accurate. That's why the Ravens are looking at Gore as the real key.
“Frank Gore is definitely a dangerous running back,” said Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. “We have to stop both him and Colin running the ball, but I think it all starts with stopping Gore.”
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