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Key matchup: Niners RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter vs. Cardinals run defense

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Oct. 23, 2012 @ 1:46 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

With a welcome 10 days off after taking care of business to the tune of a combined 227 total yards in San Francisco’s 13-7 Thursday-night victory over the division-rival Seahawks, Gore and Hunter figure to be in top-shape for their matchup against an Arizona run defense that has been merely run-of-the-mill the last two games (331 yards rushing allowed).

Gore did say that the Seattle game was a particularly tough outing for him physically, but you never would have known it, based on his “Gore-gantuan” numbers: 131 yards rushing (92 in the second half) and 51 yards receiving, both season highs. Hunter, who provides a shifty outside “yin” that nicely complements Gore’s inside-power “yang,” added 45 total yards to the mix vs. Seattle (31 yards rushing, 14 yards receiving).

Arizona’s rock-solid front seven must be particularly leery of Gore doing potential damage right up the gut, with the assistance of a very athletic interior offensive line (OGs Mike Iupati and Alex Boone and C Jonathan Goodwin) that created major holes by delivering deft head fakes that froze Seattle’s front-line defenders just enough to allow them to consistently take out Seahawks LBs with blocks at the second level. Burrowing through holes and staying low to the ground, Gore was at his best in the Seattle game, on par with his stellar level of play a year ago at this time, when he was in the midst of a five game-stretch in which he rushed for 127, 125, 141, 134 and 107 yards.

That run of excellence came before the Niners’ series with the Cardinals. In the Niners’ 23-7 win over Arizona in Week 11, Gore rushed for 88 yards on 24 carries. Three weeks later in the Cardinals’ 21-19 victory, Gore’s usage was cut considerably (only 10 carries), but he had 72 yards rushing and a TD while Hunter pitched in with 10 touches for 39 yards (20 yards rushing, 19 yards receiving).

Both Gore and Hunter have excellent vision, instincts and patience. They are quality receivers out of the backfield, and Gore doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his excellent ability to pick up blitzes.    

Arizona’s run defense dropped to 20th in the league after allowing the Vikings to romp for 166 yards, with RB Adrian Peterson doing most of the damage (23-153-1 rushing; 6.7 ypc). Peterson picked up a lot of his yards bouncing off tacklers who were unable to bring him down, but it’s worth noting that the Cardinals’ defense stiffened quite impressively in the second half, allowing Minnesota only two first downs and 58 total yards.

The key Cardinal run defenders to keep an eye on are LBs Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon on the inside and Sam Acho on the outside. Washington, the recent beneficiary of a lucrative new contract extension, is off to a Pro Bowl-caliber start, ranking fifth in the league with 62 tackles (ranked second with 54 solos). Washington led the Cardinals in tackles last week with nine and also had two sacks to give him a career-high six. Lenon and Acho showed their instincts with well-timed interceptions in the Vikings game.

Washington has exceptional speed and sideline-to sideline range and is normally an excellent open-field tackler. He has a great knack for making plays without having to take blockers on. And he keeps improving in coverage. He’s got long arms and finds the ball quickly, has fine change of direction and does a good job fighting through traffic.

The 34-year-old Lenon has had three 100-tackle campaigns in the last five years, along with a 93-tackle season. A quiet, serious student of the game, he directs traffic in the middle and displays steady toughness and leadership.

Acho is a quick study who has made a very successful conversion from end. Smart as a whip, he has a real knack for always being in the right place at the right time.

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