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The 49ers' run game against the Titans

I take a look at the run defense of the Titans.

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Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Over at Pro Football Focus' preview of the upcoming 49ers / Titans game, Jeff Deeney neatly sums up some of the talking points that we have been discussing this last week in preparation of the Titans game:

The 49ers counter with a wide receiving corps that includes Anquan Boldin and...well...Anquan Boldin. While Boldin has averaged an impressive 2.30 Yards Per Route Run this season, as well as a 102.9 QB rating when targeted, the rest of the 49ers' wide receivers have averaged a pedestrian 0.55 Yards Per Route Run and just a 32.7 QB rating when targeted. Kyle Williams has seen most of the time alongside Boldin as the No. 2 wide receiver, and he has a catch rate of 47.6% coming in, and only a 22.2 QB rating when he is the intended receiver. Suffice it to say the 49ers are counting the days until Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree can return to the lineup. Manningham is eligible to come off of the PUP list and has started practicing this week, but is not yet ready for game action.

49er fans have been lamenting the lack of consistent WR play all season. This is no surprise. As such, I was a bit disappointed, when reading about the Texans Titans, to learn that they have a couple of really impressive CBs. That makes this game about two things: 1) a hope that Vernon Davis repeats some parts of his Arizona game, and 2) the run game.

A couple of days ago, I took a look at the 49ers' o-line production, concluding that the dismal start to the season was in the rearview mirror, even if it was still a bit of a mixed effort. In particular, Mike Iupati's weak showing was a bit puzzling, and will likely be an aberration since he has been a fairly consistent player up until this point.

So, I have hope that our run game will be able to control the pace of this game. As James Brady pointed out yesterday, the Titans haven't been stellar against the run. In terms of rushing yardage, the Titans are 19th overall, allowing 111.2 yards a game (which is just one spot ahead of the 49ers). Football Outsiders is less optimistic about the Titans, ranking them as the 30th team in opposing the run. Their Adjusted Line Yards (which assigns a certain percentage of the value of a run to the line depending upon where the tackle is made) is a pretty bad 4.28. For the sake of contrast, the 49ers' d-line ranks 20th with a 4.02 ADY.

A big question coming into the game, moreover, will be the middle linebacker Colin McCarthy. McCarthy, the backup, has been filling in for Moises Fokou, who is injured. Last season, he really struggled in run defense, notching a -9.2 grade from PFF in seven games. He even struggled quite a bit last week, making only 1 tackle while missing 3 tackles. You can see his PFF page here.

As a consequence, I expect that Gore will try to run down the Titan's throat. Gore has always been particularly effective running up the middle, rather than off the tackles. Here's to hoping that he can control the pace of the game.

Moreover, this might be a good game to have an activated LaMichael James. While Kendall Hunter has demonstrated his effectiveness at running between the tackles, James hasn't. This isn't necessarily his style of play, to be honest. I don't think his success as an NFL running back is predicated upon his ability to run up the gut. But, it's a valuable skill to have, and if James can develop it by getting some practice against a weak middle linebacker, then I am all for it.