When you drafted your fantasy football team back in August Colin Kaepernick was an afterthought and Joe Flacco was a guy that somebody got stuck with. Meanwhile, Frank Gore and Ray Rice were coveted. A running back has not won Super Bowl MVP honors since Terrell Davis in 1998. But this could the year that a factor back makes the difference in the big game.
During the regular season Gore was tenth in the NFL with more than 1,200 yards on the ground. He scored eight times and only fumbled twice. In two playoff games he has upped his regular season mark of around 75 yards per game to more than 100 yards a contest. His three rushing TD's are the most in the postseason. Gore is as steady as they come. His 2012 numbers are almost identical to those of 2011, and his playoff production improved last year too.
While a lot has been said about Niner QB Colin Kaepernick's ability to run, another rookie is worth discussing. After Kendall Hunter was injured in late November, former Oregon Duck speedster LaMichael James was installed as the change-of-pace back for San Francisco. James did not receive a touch until December 9, but in six games since he has put together a run of at least 10 yards in five of them. His first ever touchdown came against Atlanta in the NFC Title game, and James has had big games with the spotlight on him before. In his final college game he rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin in a 45-38 Rose Bowl win. In three years at Oregon James rushed for more than 5,000 yards and 53 touchdowns.
Baltimore's rushing defense was below average during the regular season. The Ravens allowed more than 120 yards on the ground a game and yielded 15 touchdowns. In the playoffs Baltimore has stepped up their efforts against the run. The Patriots, Broncos, and Colts all failed to rush for a score against the Ravens. New England tallied 108 yards on the ground while Denver managed a meager three yards per carry. Baltimore was third in the AFC this year with a plus-nine turnover margin.
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Ray Rice is dangerous both as a runner and a pass catcher. The Ravens mainstay in the backfield had a very similar regular season to Gore. He rushed for 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns with only one fumble lost. Despite only having one big playoff game, Rice leads NFL running backs in postseason yards. Most of the 247 yards were picked up in his 30 carry, 131 yard effort against the Broncos. Rice's 61 catches during the regular season were second to Darren Sproles among NFL running backs.
Bernard Pierce has shown explosiveness playing behind Rice. The rookie from Temple has played well in four of the last five weeks. He carried 14 times for 123 yards against the Giants in week 16 and finished the regular season with 22 rushes for 89 yards against Cincinnati. He continued his strong play with 103 yards including a 43 yard scamper during Wild Card Weekend against Indianapolis, and managed 52 yards on nine carries against New England in the AFC Championship game. Pierce has a rush of at least 10 yards in eight of Baltimore's last nine games.
The Niners defense allowed the second fewest number of rushing yards during the regular season. Their opponents managed just 3.7 yards per carry, and seven touchdowns over 17 weeks. While Atlanta was stymied on the ground in the NFC Title game, the Packers rushed for 104 yards on 16 carries in the Divisional Playoff.
Of seven running backs to win Super Bowl MVP honors, five are in the Hall of Fame. A couple of big plays in the ground game would go a long way towards holding the Lombardi Trophy late Sunday night.