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Gore hopes to snap Steelers streak
49ers' Gore hopes to snap Steelers' defensive streak
By Scott Brown
Sunday, September 23, 2007
If Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau didn't have a captive audience when he addressed the subject of stopping 49ers running back Frank Gore with his players last week, all he had to was pop in a tape of San Francisco's 17-16 win over St. Louis.
On a fourth-and-1 from the Rams' 43-yard line last Sunday, Gore burst through the line and ran into a host of Rams defenders. Like any good back -- and Gore might be the best in the NFC -- he kept his legs churning and broke free. He made a few nifty cuts and galloped to the end zone.
LeBeau could have stopped the tape right there and asked, "Any questions?"
There aren't many, if any, regarding Gore, who will run into one of the NFL's best run defenses today -- and that could turn out to be the case literally since the Steelers give up 100 rushing yards in a game to a back about as often as there is a Halley's Comet sighting.
The last time it happened was in late November 2005 when Edgerrin James, then of the Colts, rushed for 124 yards on 29 carries.
"And then," nose tackle Casey Hampton said, "we shut him down in the playoffs."
How well the 2-0 Steelers are able to contain the 5-9, 223-pound Gore will be the most intriguing game within the game when they play the also undefeated 49ers today at Heinz Field.
The third-year pro had a breakout season in 2006 rushing for 1,695 yards, tops in the NFC and the best single-season rushing mark in 49ers history. He also led San Francisco with 61 receptions last season and finished with 2,180 yards from scrimmage.
"When God invented football and said 'I want a running back to do this,' that's what Frank Gore is," said former Penn State star Michael Robinson, who is one of Gore's backups. "He can make every run, he has great hands, his footwork is awesome and he can block. It's hard to put into words some of the things he does because he's so gifted naturally as a running back."
Not that he acts like it.
Gore has gotten into the habit of calling Mike Nolan on the 49ers coach's cell phone after games to get a critique. When he went to the Pro Bowl last February, Gore spent part of the time peppering top running backs with questions of all kinds.
Proof of that was evident when the Chargers sent the 49ers DVDs of LaDainian Tomlinson giving press conferences so Gore could study the polished Chargers' star in that area.
Gore's drive can probably best be seen on the field as he continually fights for extra yards as if he were fighting for a roster spot.
"He's got the heart," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith said of Gore. "To me that's the most impressive thing, how hard he runs. The heart, you can't teach that."
"He runs," said Steelers free safety Ryan Clark, "like he has something to prove."
Gore runs as if each carry might be his last one, which is not surprising given his history.
He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in each knee at the University of Miami.
He overcame those injuries as well as stiff competition -- at one point he shared a backfield with Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and current Steeler Najeh Davenport -- to rush for 1,975 career yards at Miami.
Concerns about his knees dropped him to the third round of the 2005 NFL draft, and the 49ers limited Gore his rookie season (he rushed for 608 yards on 127 carries) because he battled shoulder problems.
Nothing held him back last season, and he burst onto the scene like a supernova.
"Frank has said himself, many times, that the best thing that ever happened to him were the injuries and adversities that he faced because it really put him in place," Nolan said. "As he watches those other guys, I think Frank feels that they don't necessarily have an appreciation for what can be taken from you on such short notice. That's what I think really makes Frank a unique guy, is he has responded to plenty of adversity in a very positive way."
He faced more of it recently when his mother died after a lengthy battle with kidney disease.
Playing against the Rams less than a week after her death, Gore rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns. That included the 43-yarder which showed that no matter how good a job a team does of bottling him up, Gore is always a threat to break loose.
"He is probably the most patient runner in the National Football League," Robinson said. "He knows exactly when to hit hole."
Suffice it to say the Steelers are intent on extending their streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 28 games.
"We talk about it all the time," Hampton said. "We feel like our run defense is one of the best in the league and that's what we pride ourselves on. We take a whole lot of pride in not letting people get 100 yards on us."
They didn't let Tomlinson or Larry Johnson accomplish the feat last season.
Gore, who had nine 100-yard rushing games a year ago, becomes the latest back to test the Steelers' streak that is the definition of stingy.
"I know this much," Nolan said, "Frank could have three quarters of nothing and in the fourth quarter, he could light it up."