Passing league? Sure, but 49ers will win Super rushing battle

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We all recognize the NFL is predominantly a passing league, and over the past 10 years history says the Super Bowl will have over 80 pass plays.

History also indicates 100-yard rushers are few and far between. There have been only three 100-yard rushers from the past 20 teams in the big game.

The 49ers and Ravens may throw the ball over 40 times each, but they come into this game with the intention of getting 100-plus yards from their top running backs, Frank Gore and Ray Rice.

Can it be done?

Both defenses say no. The Ravens might not be very impressive as a run defense if you look at the whole season, but they were battling injuries that clearly affected them. The Ravens have not allowed a rushing touchdown in the past 129 carries and they have only surrendered four runs over 10 yards in those 129 rush attempts, so I suggest that you ignore the fact they finished 20th in NFL rush defense.

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The Ravens' run defense is playing well, but faces a 49ers run offense that has produced seven rushing touchdowns and 472 rushing yards in two playoff games. San Francisco's Frank Gore and LaMichael James have combined for 56 touches, 323 yards, four touchdowns and 14 first downs in two postseason games. Gore and James believe they can get it done on the ground against the Ravens.

The Niners' defense finished fourth in the NFL against the run, giving up just 94 yards a game on the ground. That is impressive, but you can rest assured the Ravens have studied the Niners' two games against the Seahawks, when Seattle burned them for 312 yards on 68 rushes.

Expect Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to look closely at the way Seattle ran the ball. In three playoff games this season, Rice and Pierce have combined for 96 touches for 493 yards, 16 first downs and 10 runs over 10 yards. They are not coming into this game thinking they can't run on the Niners.

When these two teams met last year, Gore and Rice averaged 2.8 yards a carry and no one had a rushing touchdown. Which running back wins the rushing title for this game?

Both defenses are very aware of the pulling guards that get an extra blocker to the play side and will counter with a late safety insert into the box. I listened to one 49ers defender say that his defense will try to play the run with seven in the box as much as possible but when certain personnel groups are on the field for Baltimore they may have to drop a safety down or Rice will get his 100 yards.

Fans of the X's and O's of the game need to keep these numbers close to them during the game. Baltimore's 21 personnel (a tailback, fullback, tight end and 2 wide receivers) is 61.3 percent run; the 22 personnel (a fullback, tailback, two tight ends and one wide receiver) is 75 percent run.

Finally, I spent some time today with NFL people who understand the dynamics of a successful running game in this year's Super Bowl. One coach said, "If you factor in [quarterback Colin] Kaepernick the runner as well as Gore and James, the 49ers are the team to win the rushing title in the Super Bowl."

A former NFL quarterback said, "If the Ravens pull guard Marshall Yanda and lead up with Vonta Leach, Ray Rice will get his 100-yard day."

What I do recommend for the Ravens rushing attack is their no-huddle offense. That no-huddle run game averaged 5.2 a carry against the Patriots. The Patriots averaged 5.3 a carry in their no-huddle against San Francisco.

My prediction is there will be close to 60 rushing plays in this game and no individual cracks the 100-yard mark. Both Gore and Rice have averaged 23 touches a game in the postseason and they will get their chances, but it may be Pierce or James that is the dark horse in the race.

I like the 49ers to have the most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in Super Bowl XLVII.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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