Super Bowl XLVII: Gore proving to be better with age
When most people think of the great San Francisco 49ers teams of the 1980s and '90s, they think of the passing-oriented offenses led by Joe Montana and Steve Young.
If the Niners beat the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, fans may fondly remember an impressive run-oriented assault with running back Frank Gore leading the pack.
Gore, 29, heads San Francisco's fourth-ranked rushing attack, but he doesn't do it alone.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back LaMichael James complement the franchise's all-time leading rusher.
The Ravens have a premier runner of their own in Ray Rice, the New Rochelle native who turned 26 one week ago. Rice led the league in yards from scrimmage in 2011, but experienced a comparatively down year by ranking ninth in the category this season. Though Rice takes the majority of handoffs, backup Bernard Pierce has been used frequently during Baltimore's march to New Orleans.
Even as Gore approaches 30 in 2013, his play has gotten better. His 1,214 yards rushing this season were the most since his second year in the league.
The Niners have also become more conscious of Gore's age, and spelled him more this year than ever. His 16.1 carries per game in 2012 were the fewest since becoming the starter in 2006.
Kendall Hunter (5.2 yards per carry) had been the alternate back of choice for much of the season, but a left ankle injury in Week 12 shelved him through the end of the playoffs. James stepped into Hunter's role in Week 14, and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry during the regular season and postseason.
Though Rice's yards per carry can't stack up to those amassed by the Niners' backs, his ability to make plays receiving gives him a more diverse skill set. His 61 receptions during the regular season were second in the league among running backs.
Rice is also capable of big plays, and none was bigger than his first-down conversion on 4th and 29 against the San Diego Chargers in Week 12, the longest such non-penalty conversion since 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
When Rice takes a breather, the rookie Pierce (5.2 ypc, regular season and playoffs) has proved to be trouble for defensive fronts. He's not the same weapon in the passing game, though.
Go with the hot hands
Even if the Niners' running backs aren't the major weapons that Kaepernick looks to in the passing game, they're playing at a higher level right now. The team is averaging 236 yards per game this postseason on 6.6 ypc. While Kaepernick is responsible for a good chunk of that production, his own rushing ability allows Gore and James to have fresh legs.
Neither back has fumbled since the postseason began, while Rice lost two fumbles in the opening round. Hanging on to the ball is key, and it helps make San Francisco the backfield of choice between the two NFL finalists.