49ers winning war in trenches

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The key to the San Francisco 49ers regaining their identity as a power-running team?

Of course, you need a running back like Frank Gore. But unless you have an offensive line blowing out a defensive front seven, the point is moot.

The Niners had that dominating O-line last weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs and, the 49ers anticipate, will have it again Monday night at the St. Louis Rams.

Consider: While Gore rushed for 107 yards on 18 carries against Kansas City, only 20 of his yards came after first contact, per ESPN Stats & Information. That means Gore averaged 4.8 yards per carry before he was ever touched by a defensive player (league average is 2.7 yards).

So yeah, the offensive line was blowing out the Chiefs’ defensive line, and Niners fullback Bruce Miller was getting in on the action too.

“I’ve seen something I’ve never seen in football on one of Frank’s long runs, a 15-, 20-yarder where Bruce blocked his man and then Frank ran between Bruce and the defender he was blocking and then came out the other side,” said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. “It was really something to be seen. Almost like those car racers, when they drive through the smoke of an accident. He just went right through it.

“No, he didn’t get touched. He was missing by the narrowest of margins. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a runner run between a blocker and a defender until now.”

Gore has consecutive 100-yard rushing games for the first time since he had five straight in 2011. Plus, eight of his carries Sunday were outside of the left tackle and they gained 53 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

So yeah, he still has burst. And left tackle Joe Staley, who had a career-high grade of plus-7.3 per PFF, was clearing the way.

“He is playing at the highest level,” Harbaugh said of Gore. “When you look at Frank game after game, he keeps doing it and doing it and doing it. He’s done it and done it and done it. He keeps doing it.”

Kansas City was already giving up chunk runs, but the Chiefs do have an imposing front seven -- on paper.

“Especially against that front,” right guard Alex Boone said when asked how good the Niners’ blocking was against the Chiefs. “Their defense really runs to the ball. It was a good game for us.”

Now they face a Rams defense that is struggling as far as racking up stats. St. Louis is allowing nearly 5 yards per carry and has only one sack through four games.

“That’s deceptive,” Boone said. “They’re a very deceiving team. They can hurt you. We’ve got to shut them down early.”

Or blow them off the line of scrimmage.