Dickey: Niners' running game rejuvenates team

Now do you understand why Mike Singletary made the running game the key to the 49ers’ offense?

When Frank Gore was stopped cold by Arizona’s run blitzing in the opener, Singletary was criticized by media and fans, which echoed fan sentiment in my e-mail, even though the 49ers won a road game against a team that had been in the Super Bowl in February.

Two days ago, with the 49ers holding a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, Gore burst for a 79-yard touchdown run that set a personal best. In the third quarter, he topped that with an 80-yard touchdown.

Any more questions?

Any good coach has to first evaluate what he has. Singletary had half a season as an assistant in 2008 and half a season as the interim head coach. In that time he concluded that his offense had to be built around Gore, who is a great running back, because Shaun Hill is not a quarterback who can be the difference maker, as Joe Montana, Steve Young and even Jeff Garcia were.

In the season opener, the offensive line often broke down under the pressure of almost constant blitzing by the Cardinals.

In their second game, the line played better, though right tackle is still a problem area; neither Adam Snyder nor newcomer Tony Pashos played well. The Niners had hoped to solve that problem with free agent Marvel Smith, but the oft-injured Smith retired. Snyder seems to have the ability to do the job, so he has to step up.

Otherwise, though, the offensive game plan worked as Singletary thought it would: The running game with Gore was spectacular, the passing game ordinary. Hill completed a high percentage of his passes but they were mostly short dump-offs. His one attempt to go deep down the sideline would have been intercepted, but would-be target Isaac Bruce realized that and leaped high to bat the ball to the ground.

Hill was sacked four times and fumbled once (recovered by left tackle Joe Staley, who had an outstanding game). Hill has some mobility and ran once for 17 yards, but that’s an exception. He doesn’t seem to have much pocket sense. When the protection breaks down, instead of trying to run or throwing the ball away, he just takes the sack.

Gore’s runs obviously thrilled the fans, but the continued strong play by the defense is the biggest reason for confidence in the 49ers. The 49ers have yielded only 26 points in their first two games. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck didn’t play the second half Sunday, but he had looked good only on the last drive of the half, which ended with the Seahawks’ lone touchdown.

There’s no reason to think the Seahawks would have won if he’d stayed in the game.

The 49ers’ strong defensive showing has caused me to re-evaluate their chances this season. I now think they might sneak into the playoffs.

It would be unreasonable to expect them to go far in the postseason, if they get there. The Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback, playing as Hill is now, but the Ravens set a record for fewest points (176) allowed in a 16-game season.
Nonetheless, with the defense playing well and Gore in top form, the team will continue to create some excitement for 49ers fans.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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