'West Coast' Niners on the run

The mere mention of the 49ers spawns thoughts of the fabled "West Coast Offense." But the 49ers have relied less and less on their passing game as the seasons have unfurled. While the 49ers' 212-yard rushing performance against the Buccaneers last week might have turned some heads around the league, it was really not too much out of the ordinary.

Coach Dennis Erickson said he has come to the conclusion that the 49ers are a running team. It is the team's running attack that will create opportunities for quarterback Jeff Garcia and the passing game.

With an NFC West game upcoming against the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers figure they will see defenses that have to play them straight up. After all, the 49ers' run game has been much more effective than their passing attack this season.

In fact, this is nothing new. Since 1998, the 49ers have rushed for more yards than any other team in the NFL. The 49ers have gained 11,918 yards rushing, ranking ahead of the Steelers (11,766) and the Broncos (11,715) during that span.

When Erickson took over the 49ers in February, he made the bold proclamation that his team would be more aggressive on offense and that they would get the ball down the field more often.

Now, Erickson has seen the light. He said he realizes that what the team does best is run the football.

"We're a little better running team than I anticipated," Erickson said. "We're able to put ourselves in good situations because of the run game. As I look at this team, that's how I see it."

He said it might not take long before opposing defenses adjust their mentality when facing the 49ers. After all, the Buccaneers were forced to abandon their two-deep zone in the second half, as strong safety John Lynch was moved closer to the line of scrimmage as the eighth defender in the box.

"We might see eight in the box every week now," Erickson said, "so that means the receivers are going to have to step up and make big plays."

The 49ers have to find a little more consistency from receiver Terrell Owens, who made a 75-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against the Bucs. But he also dropped two passes in the end zone.

The 49ers need to be able to carry over the momentum from their win over the defending Super Bowl champions. The game against the Cardinals looms as a "sandwich" game between that challenge and a key NFC West game against the Rams on Nov. 2.

It has all the makings of a letdown for the 49ers.

"We have to continue to build," 49ers defensive end Andre Carter said earlier this week. "Even though we're on Cloud 9 right now, we have to stay on that level. Arizona's backs are against the wall and they'll do anything to win."

The Cardinals are 1-5, and coming off their bye week. It is a game the 49ers should win. It's a game they must win. And that's what makes it scary for them.

Erickson is in the middle of his fifth NFL season. He rated the victory Sunday over the Buccaneers as his greatest win in professional football. But he did not spend a lot of time savoring it. Erickson said he does not fall victim to looking past the Cardinals.

"We're 3-4," Erickson said. "That's where we're at."

The 49ers certainly can't afford to stumble any more this season against inferior teams. They will have to win seven of their final nine games to virtually assure themselves of a playoff berth.

"If we want to continue to have any hope to make the playoffs, there's not very much room for error," Erickson said. "They know that. We put ourselves in this position, now we've got to dig ourselves out of it."

And they're digging their way out by carving a path on the ground.

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