Was Frank Gore, who had 22 carries for 59 yards Sunday, slower than normal? It's a question I received over and over again during a Tuesday chat. After re-watching the game tape the answer is both, 'No, I don't think so' and, 'It's hard to tell.'
That's because Gore, as has been the case in recent seasons, had a hard time finding running room against a defense that was intent on stopping him. His No. 1 scourge was second-year safety Earl Thomas, whom you'll recall is the safety Pete Carroll chose in the first round last year, disappointing Taylor Mays in the process.
During the lead-up to the Seattle game, both Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman were asked separately about the Seahawks defense. The first name out of both of their mouths was Thomas', and he lived up to their compliments. He finished with eight tackles - fellow safety Kam Chancellor (a one-time Barrows draft crash, I might add. Bigthroatclear) had a game-high nine stops - and continually flew in from the secondary to trip up Gore. Indeed, Thomas had a very Polamalu-like performance on Sunday.
One sequence in the second quarter typifies what happened with the 49ers run game on Sunday. The 49ers were facing 3rd and 2 at the Seattle 29-yard line with 5:54 left in the half.
3rd &2: Alex Smith pitches wide to his left to Gore. Tight ends Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis block down on Seahawk defenders and left tackle Joe Staley, who is very good at hitting moving targets, goes wide and absolutely crushes Chancellor. Gore seemingly has plenty of room to pick up the first down and much more, but Thomas, who was initially 15 yards from the play, comes streaking in, steers Gore back to the inside and then cuts him down after only a yard pickup.
4th&1: The Seahawks jump off sides when Adam Snyder, who checked in as an eligible receiver, starts to go in motion.
1st&10: On one of the few plays where he has running room, Gore looks like his old self and picks up seven yards before he's tackled by Thomas.
2nd&3: The 49ers use a play they've been working on all offseason, one in which the run is set up to go one way but in which the team takes advantage of the defense's dedication to stopping Gore by breaking it the other way. Walker comes flying in to deliver a textbook block on Thomas, taking out his legs and wiping him out of the play. But despite running room, Gore can't get around the corner, and he is tackled by cornerback Brandon Browner a yard short of the first down. It's one of the plays in which Gore seemingly should have picked up more yards than he got and likely prompted the questions of fans. Gore seems to be nicked on the play, and Kendall Hunter comes in for the next few snaps.
3rd&1: Hunter is stopped for no gain by Chancellor, one of several instances where a Seahawks safety quickly penetrated the 49ers' backfield. A final bit of evidence that Gore is fine: Hunter finished the game with a 2-yard average on two carries. Gore's average was 2.7 yards.
Players of the game? Ted Ginn, of course, is at the top of the heap, and he was named today the NFC special teams player of the week for his two touchdowns. But NaVorro Bowman and Ray McDonald had excellent outings as well. Walker only saw one pass go his way, but he was great in the blocking game and a terror on special teams. Justin Smith and Patrick Willis, as always, also had strong games. And Alex Smith made more plays on a second viewing than he was initially credited for. A solid start for the quarterback ....
-- Matt Barrows