NEW ORLEANS — Colin Kaepernick is the exciting young quarterback. He’s the one with the multi-dimensional skill set that has helped transform the San Francisco 49ers from a team primarily known for its defense into a team for its explosive offense as well. And he’s the one featured in the giant picture that hangs across the wall of the lobby inside the 49ers’ team hotel.
But it’s actually running back Frank Gore that Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees described as the “main focus” for Baltimore’s defense heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup with San Francisco.
Said Pees: “Everyone talks about No. 7 (Kaepernick), but 21 (Gore) can beat you just as easy as (Kaepernick) can and he’s still, to me, the main focus.”
Added Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones: “That’s what it all comes down to — stopping that run. Frank Gore runs that offense. … It’s up to us up front to dominate the line of scrimmage up front and stop the run.”
Gore’s a four-time Pro Bowler. He has rushed for 1,036 yards or more during each of the last six seasons that he’s played in at least 14 games. He finished this year’s regular season with 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns.
He has added 209 yards and three scores in San Francisco’s two playoff victories.
“Frank Gore, to me, is the most important part of the 49ers’ offense,” said former Pro Bowl running back and current NFL Network analyst LaDainian Tomlinson. “He allows them, for one, to wear down the defense with that dive (play). He’s the physical guy that can wear down the defense, but he can also still take it to the house and catch the ball out of the backfield.”
For the year — including the playoffs — the 5-foot-9, 217-pound Gore is averaging nearly five yards per carry.
He rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the 49ers’ NFL championship win over the Atlanta Falcons, one of nine times this year Gore has totaled 83 yards or more on the ground.
He had 119 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries — as well as 48 yards on two catches — during San Francisco’s 45-31 divisional round playoff win over the Green Bay Packers.
Gore had a season-high 131 yards on just 16 carries against the Seattle Seahawks in mid-October.
“He’s just like a bull,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said of Gore. “He goes downhill on you really fast and I think he’s more (agile) than people think he is. I have respect for his game because if you watch Frank Gore, he doesn’t take the hits. He actually delivers them because of his low center of gravity. You go ask Ray Lewis who he has respect for in that offense, and obviously he has respect for everybody, but the main person he’ll tell you right now is Frank Gore.”
Gore has been selected to the Pro Bowl each of the last two years, rushing for a combined 2,426 yards and 16 touchdowns during the last two regular seasons.
“Nobody does it better than Frank Gore,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Nobody. I have the greatest respect for Frank because he has the greatest respect for the game. It’s evidenced by how he plays, every single game, every single day. Nobody does it better than Frank Gore. I really believe in his talent, but the greatest share is his love for the game; his love and respect for the game of football.”
On Sunday, Gore will be matched up against a Ravens defense — led by Lewis — that has limited opposing running backs to an average of just 3.6 yards per carry in the playoffs.
“They play well together,” Gore said. “The (defensive line) is very big, fast and strong. Their linebacker, (Lewis is) one of the best linebackers to ever play the game. … We are just going to have to keep chipping away and keep getting the ball to the offense. And whenever we get an opportunity to make a big play we need to capitalize and get it.”