“Yes, kind of ‘thunder and lightning. You know, that’s been used a lot through the years with running backs but with both those guys it literally is applicable.” Mike Singletary said Wednesday.
Even with Brian Westbrook’s big game against the Cardinals last week the 49ers offensive philosophy minus Frank Gore will feature heavy doses of Westbrook and rookie running back Anthony Dixon sharing the load. Mike Singletary has shown his love for the one running back system since becoming head coach working Gore to the point of injury in each season with the team. Singletary applied his run, run, run offense with no adequate backups until Westbrook arrived this season with Singletary rarely using him until Gore went down. There were reasons for Westbrook not playing much during the season which include him not knowing the pass protection schemes and Gore not wanting to rest and come out of the games. Another reason is that Gore was a beast at picking up the blitz.
The 49ers will employ their version of thunder and lightning not because Westbrook or Dixon cannot get it done by themselves but because of Westbrook’s age and injury history and Dixon is a rookie with his only experience coming in the preseason. Westbrook still has his legs underneath him however his body has suffered numerous injuries in the last few years ranging from an ankle repaired by surgery to his multiple concussions. To expect Westbrook to carry the load like he did against the Cardinals or similar to Gore is unwise. Westbrook is still a good running back but the 49ers cannot risk him getting injured because the 49ers overworked him after hardly using him in the season’s first 11 weeks.
Dixon is an up incoming running back who you can call either thunder or lighting. Westbrook has more speed than Dixon so he gets the lighting tag. However with Dixon’s quick feet he combines the style of a rolling ball running back and one that can make moves to the outside with his speed. One of Dixon’s biggest knocks after he gained 300 rushing yards with four touchdowns in four preseason games was he used his quick feet too much. Instead of making a decision of whether or not to plow through a hole or bounce outside he would dance around in the backfield trying to make a play and would gain minimal yards. It is when Dixon just goes with his instincts and does not over think that he is at his best. Let’s hope his instincts have improved during the season.
It will be tough to replace Gore not only in the running game but also in the passing game and blitz pick up. This weekend Westbrook and Dixon will face their toughest test of the remaining five games going up against a defense lead by linebacker Clay Matthews who leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks. I think Westbrook will be the featured running back with Dixon coming in on third downs and goal line situations. The two however will not be able to make up for Gore and his production and value to the 49ers.