Watching Frank Gore I wanted to be able to report that he's slowed or lost his preternatural ability to find seems. Too bad. Gore looks every bit the power, cutback rusher that laid a pair of mushroom clouds on us last year. The problem for San Francisco seems to be that their front five isn't getting much push. That's pretty forgivable against the Steeler's power trio. Just for kicks I decided to look back at Gore's two other bad showings to try and figure out if something tied them together. The answer would seemingly be bulk in the middle. Gabe Watson, Adam Carriker and Casey Hampton are 300+ pound, two-gap run stuffers. The Niners run up the middle with conviction, but Eric Heitmann is not getting good push and it looks like age has finally caught up with 35 y/o Larry Allen. He's as strong as ever, but so slow that he's simply not pushing his man fast enough to create a hole.
Still, that's against the Steelers.
Seattle has only one real wide body to strangle the middle and that's Brandon Mebane. I think with Chartric Darby a near non-entity thus far it might be time to give Mebane the start. It's certainly the more favorable matchup from the Hawks' perspective. It would seem given the Hawks' depth a tackle platoon wouldn't be hard to imagine, with Mebane getting most of the looks against power rushing teams and Darby against zone-blocking, passing heavy attacks. That is assuming that Darby is still better than Mebane in those situations, which, I guess is mootable.
The 49ers feature a power rushing attack not-dissimilar to the Cardinals. Both feature a lot of conservative personnel packages: multiple tight ends, fullbacks, H-backs, wide receivers tight and bunched--lots of designed rollouts. That style gave Seattle fits in week two. The scary proposition is take the near constant seams Edgerrin James was seeing and have Moran Norris lead blocking and Frank Gore rushing. So, yeah, the Hawks as-is are probably going to lose this matchup. Darby will be absorbed into Allen like a mutating Tetsuo, Norris will destroy whatever linebacker happens to be near that gap and Gore will live in the second level. Can't say I like that, but it's only the running game. Alex Smith still looks schizoid under pressure, as likely to run five yards back as throw the ball wildly on the run.
The Hawks are the better team, but between how Alexander matches against the Niners linebackers and the Niners rushing attack matches against Seattle's quick but small front seven, it would seem we are near conceding the run game on both sides of the ball. That's an awful big handicap to overcome and the reason that a clearly better Seahawks club went 0-2 versus the Niners in 2006, and may start 0-1 against them in 2007.