49ers pounding opponents with power running game
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Francisco 49ers are beating up opponents with a power rushing attack, and nobody's enjoying it more than the big bodies leading the way up front.
A physical offensive line featuring 2010 first-round draft picks Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis has established itself as a force in the trenches, opening holes for a ground game that ranks second in the NFL in yards rushing and first in rushing average.
Seattle entered last week's game with the NFL's second-ranked rushing defense, but the 49ers blasted through the Seahawks for 175 yards to highlight a 13-6 slugfest victory that put San Francisco alone atop the NFC West at 5-2.
That kind of performance has become typical for the 49ers, who have rushed for 175 yards or more four times already this season and look to do it again Monday night at Arizona in another key divisional game.
San Francisco's line is expecting another physical battle against an Arizona defensive front that features Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, who said earlier this week that the 49ers are a team that both he and Dockett "really hate with a passion."
The Niners have held the upper hand in several of those kinds of battles this season. San Francisco's five offensive line starters average 6-foot-5 and 317 pounds, and they pack a punch.
"We're big guys leaning on you all game," Davis said Friday. "We just do our job, and it wears you out. It's just natural it happens like that. It's just one will against another, and some guys are tougher than other guys."
Davis and Iupati have started every game for the 49ers since they were drafted, becoming in 2010 just the third pair of rookie offensive linemen to start every game since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Since then, they have set the tone of physicality for San Francisco's line.
A bruiser at left guard, Iupati has gained a reputation as one of the top run-blocking guards in the league. Second-year offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Iupati "had the best game since I've been here" during the win against Seattle.
"He just played lights out," Roman said. "He was just dominating people. He's an athletic, explosive guy and he enjoys it. He's got some physical tools that are rare, and they were on display."
One of San Francisco's signature offensive plays is called "power," a running play during which Iupati pulls to the right and either trap blocks or leads through a hole.
Iupati has been running that play since his college days, and nobody was able to stop it then, either.
"That's my game," Iupati said. "I love power. Power is one physical play. It's just one of those plays that's smashmouth football. It's fun, man. That's one of my best plays, and I've always loved pulling and trapping. With the line blocking, Frank (Gore) can read those holes easily, and Frank's one of the best running backs out there playing the game."
Gore has had a lot of success on that play, and the three-time Pro Bowler is enjoying one of his finest seasons despite carrying the ball fewer times than at this point in previous years.
Gore ranks fifth in the NFL with 601 yards rushing, and his 5.8 average per carry is a yard better than any of the four backs ahead of him. Kendall Hunter, Gore's backup, has 258 yards rushing and averages 5.2 yards a carry. The 49ers are averaging 5.9 yards per carry as a team after averaging 4.1 last season.
The 49ers also have been getting strong play up front from center Jonathan Goodwin, Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley and right guard Alex Boone, who has been impressive in his first season as a starter.
"They've just been playing great, and they really set the tone for us more than anything with the way they go out there," quarterback Alex Smith said. "Everything kind of starts with them. The last few weeks, really hats off to them the way they've been getting things done, especially last Thursday in the run game."
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