Thursday, January 31, 2013

Harbaugh's Heroes: Ray Rice vs. Frank Gore

Ray Rice vs. Frank Gore
by Dan O'Brien

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The comparisons continue; this time with two premier backs. Frank Gore became the leading rusher in 49ers history this year and has stuck with the team through thick and thin. Ray Rice became the main attraction of a powerful run game the moment he stepped on the field. Both of these running backs are strong downfield runners who are not afraid of some contact. Part of what makes this Super Bowl (or Harbowl) so fascinating is that the match-up is between two old-style clubs: a strong run offense and a hardnosed, lights-out defense.

Ray Rice
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Ray Rice is a complete running back. He is great off-tackle and he is great in the open field. He has the speed and the strength to be considered an elite running back, which he most certainly is. When he came into the league in 2008, he was not the first option for Baltimore. This, however, quickly changed. In 2009, he rushed for 1339 yards and 7 touchdowns. He caught 78 passes for 702 yards, solidifying his presence as a double-threat back. In 2012, the year that matters because the Ravens are in the Super Bowl, he rushed for 1143 yards and 9 touchdowns; he added to that 61 receptions for 478 yards. Despite a strong season, this was by no means his best season. 

Frank Gore
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Frank Gore is a part of 49ers history and this game might mean more to him than a lot of the other guys on the team. Gore, while being a powerful runner, is not the same dynamic back that Rice seems on track to be. He rushed for 1695 yards and 8 touchdowns in his first year as a starter (2006), which are monster numbers, but he managed to only hover around 1200 yards for the remainder of his career. If you add 61 receptions for 485 yards, then you are talking about more than a 2000-yard season in 2006. Fast-forward to 2012: this was a pretty good year as well, as he rushed for 1214 yards and 8 touchdown, adding to that 28 receptions for 234 yards. It seems clear to me that he never recovered from the knee injury, taking a little power and speed out of his step.

Opinion Time

Both teams are going to threaten the run. Both defenses are prepared for the run. Both of these running backs are willing to stretch and fall for that extra inch. I feel like Kaepernick should be included in the running back conversation, simply because the threat of his quickness and the Read-Option make the 49ers running game more of a threat. Gore average 4.7 yards per carry for an average of 75.9 yards per game. Rice average 4.4 yards per carry for 71.4 yards per game. Those numbers are too close to call. Gore had three fumbles on the year, one of which was taken back for a touchdown, while Rice had only one. I think whichever team wins the contested run game will inevitably emerge victorious this Sunday. With numbers this tight between two powerhouse running backs, something has to give.

More about the author: A psychologist, author, philosopher, freelance editor, and skeptic, Dan O’Brien has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Portent, The Path of the Fallen, Book of Seth, and Cerulean Dreams

Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) 

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