The 49ers face off against the New York Jets tomorrow morning in a matchup of two teams that like to run the ball. We know the 49ers can run the ball effectively, but last week was an odd situation where they seemed to abandon some strong rushing. Frank Gore seemed to be having success, averaging over five yards per carry against a supposedly strong rushing defense. And yet, with the deficit, the 49ers seemed to abandon the run to a certain extent.
Thus far, the 49ers are rushing the ball at a clip of 5.4 yards per carry. That's good for third in the league behind only the Chiefs and Bills, who are each averaging 5.6 yards per rush. At the same time, the 49ers are 18th in the league in rushing attempts with 79.
There has been plenty of talk about opening up the offense, but given the rushing success, should the 49ers in fact be rushing more? I suppose the success may come because they do not rush the ball as much as other teams, but I don't really buy that. The team has made it clear they do not want to ground Frank Gore into the ground, but it seems like they are not getting quite the effective rushing they would like from Kendall Hunter.
Thus far, Hunter has averaged 3.6 yards per carry. He has had some effective runs, but he struggled at times against Minnesota. If they want to build on what has been a very effective rushing season by Frank Gore, they will need to get more consistent performances from Hunter.
On the other side of things, the New York Jets enjoy running the ball, but do not do it with much effectiveness. They are 11th in the league with 90 rushes, but are averaging a paltry 3.3 yards per carry. Shonn Greene is averaging 2.8 yards on 57 carries, while Bilal Powell is averaging 4.0 yards on 22 carries. Naturally their leading YPC belongs to Tim Tebow at 5.4 yards on seven carries.
I am fairly certain that Bilal Powell will be starting for the Jets before the end of the season. It strikes me as more of a question of when rather than if. Greene is just about finished and another poor week against the 49ers might give the Jets incentive to make a change, even with the 49ers rush defense being what it is.
Of course, that rush defense will likely be missing a key cog in Isaac Sopoaga. Although Ice is an under-the-radar guy at nose tackle, he puts forth a strong effort week in and week out. He will likely be replaced this week by Ricky Jean-Francois. RJF has done solid work as a reserve, getting starts in place of Sopoaga and McDonald last year.
Nonetheless, it is a change. RJF will face off against Nick Mangold in a matchup Matt Maiocco pointed to as one of his key matchups. Mangold is a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro. RJF is a talented defensive lineman, but this will be a stiff challenge.
Both teams passing attacks have potential, but as we have seen in San Francisco, inconsistency still abounds. I think Jets fans know a thing or two about inconsistent passing attacks as well. I'm not saying we are talking about similar passing games, but there are definitely consistency issues for both teams. I think we'll see both teams spend plenty of time early on trying to establish the run. The more effective of the two could gain the upper hand.