Of all that will be debated, discussed and dissected in the next few days about Sunday’s Seattle-San Francisco clash for the NFC title, the outcome might come down to the performance of just one person — 49ers running back Frank Gore.
While establishing a running game is always more complicated than simply how the running back himself plays, no player’s stat line has more closely exemplified the success or failure of his team in the Seattle-San Francisco series in recent years than that of Gore’s.
Since 2009, Gore has played in nine games for the 49ers against the Seahawks.
In five San Francisco wins, he has rushed for 590 yards on 94 carries, with a high of 207 and a low of 59.
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In four 49ers losses, he has rushed for a combined 107 yards on 41 carries, and never more than 38 (he missed a game against Seattle in 2010 due to injury).
“They’re going to get Frank Gore the ball,’’ Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril said Monday, then repeated that “they’re going to get Frank Gore the ball, then maybe take a shot or something like that. But it all starts with Frank Gore.”
The trend has been particularly pronounced the past three years, since Jim Harbaugh took over as the 49ers coach and turned San Francisco into even more of a running team.
Harbaugh is 4-2 against the Seahawks, and in those four wins Gore has rushed for 383 yards on 78 carries. In the two losses, each in Seattle, he has 44 yards on 15 carries.
This season was a perfect illustration as Gore had just 16 yards on nine carries in Seattle’s 29-3 win at CenturyLink Field, then turned around and rushed for 110 on 17 in San Francisco’s 19-17 win at Candlestick Park on Dec. 8. Gore also had the key play in that game, a 51-yard run with 4:21 left that set up Phil Dawson’s winning field goal.
San Francisco finished that game with 163 yards rushing on 33 carries compared to 100 on 20 in the first game (a total inflated by Colin Kaepernick’s scrambling late in the game, as he finished with 87).
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week that other than the long run at the end, one in which the Seahawks were out of position, Seattle held up to the 49ers’ running game pretty well in the loss at Candlestick.
“They were running the ball OK in that game, they were competitive and all of that, and then they busted one that changed the game and gave them all of the numbers,’’ Carroll said. “It’s a great job by them and unfortunately we didn’t get it done. … If you make a mistake he takes advantage of it, and he certainly did that against us. That’s exactly what happened.”
Avril said those kinds of runs, where Gore waits to see how the play is developing before making his move, are what make him the most dangerous.
“Frank Gore picks and chooses what gaps he’s going to hit,’’ Avril said of the 5-foot-9, 215-pounder from the University of Miami who has played with the 49ers since 2005. “He’s patient, and once again if you get out of your gap and try to do too much he’ll pick you apart and hit those holes and get those big runs.”
While Gore hasn’t had success in Seattle the past two years, there’s no doubt San Francisco will again try to get him going Sunday.
If the Seattle defense has shown any vulnerability this season, it is against the run. A Seattle defense that was first in the NFL in total defense and pass defense finished the year tied for seventh against the run at 101.6 yards allowed per game.
The Seahawks’ run defense improved markedly the last third of the season after a midyear lull in which the Rams and Tampa Bay each rushed for 200 or more in consecutive weeks.
New Orleans last Saturday, though, made an effort early to get its running game going and had 79 yards on 15 carries in the first half before turning primarily to the pass after falling behind 16-0.
Gore finished with another solid season, with 1,128 yards, his third straight 1,000-yard season and seventh in the past eight years.
And he’s shown no signs of wear in the playoffs, rushing for 66 yards on 20 carries at Green Bay and 84 on 17 last week at Carolina against a defense ranked second in the NFL against the run.
Afterward, Gore declared that the 49ers, with their emphasis on defense and the running game, are “built for’’ winning road playoff games.
A foundation Avril said is easy to see.
“That’s definitely the big key right there,’’ he said, “stopping Frank Gore.”
|Frank Gore vs. the Seahawks|
|Frank Gore, the 49ers’ veteran running back, has faced the Seahawks 16 times.|
|2013, San Francisco||17||110||6.5||49ers, 19-17|
|2013, Seattle||9||16||1.8||Seahawks, 29-3|
|2012, Seattle||6||28||4.7||Seahawks, 42-13|
|2012, San Francisco||16||131||8.2||49ers, 13-6|
|2011, Seattle||23||83||3.6||49ers, 19-17|
|2011, San Francisco||22||59||2.7||49ers, 33-17|
|2010, Seattle||17||38||2.2||Seahawks, 31-6|
|2009, Seattle||9||25||2.8||Seahawks, 20-17|
|2009, San Francisco||16||207||12.9||49ers, 23-10|
|2008, San Francisco||18||94||5.2||Seahawks, 34-13|
|2008, Seattle||19||61||3.2||49ers, 33-30|
|2007, Seattle||13||72||5.5||Seahawks, 24-0|
|2007, San Francisco||16||79||4.9||Seahawks, 23-3|
|2006, Seattle||29||144||5.0||49ers, 24-14|
|2006, San Francisco||24||212||8.8||49ers, 20-14|
|2005, Seattle||2||5||2.5||Seahawks, 41-3|
|At Seattle, 9 games||127||472||3.7||Seahawks, 6-3|
|At S. Francisco, 7 games||129||892||6.9||49ers, 5-2|
|Total, 16 games||256||1,364||5.3||8 games apiece|
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.