"You have to take him away. He's one of the best backs in the National Football League. Very rough style. We have to take him away and make the quarterback beat us."
"He's really capable. He's a fantastic runner. He's got great sense. He's got as good a sense in the line of scrimmage as anybody that's playing in the game. If you make a mistake, he takes advantage of it."
Those are two different quotes about two different running backs, both of whom will be in action on Sunday in the NFC Championship game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. The first quote is from 49ers safety Donte Whitner, talking about Marshawn Lynch, the hard-to-tackle, Skittles-loving back that has carried the Seahawks all season. The second is from Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, talking about the bell-cow who has carried the 49ers for years, Frank Gore.
Both teams have young, exciting quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, but both prefer to run the ball when they can. Kaepernick and Wilson both have the added benefit of being to run well, potentially better than any other quarterbacks in the league, but both have also had their big days throwing. That said, running has led to more success for their respective teams.
The first two times these teams met this season, the running stats were telling. San Francisco hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season -- and have allowed just nine in their last 101 games -- but Lynch came very close in Week 2 of the regular season, putting up 98 yards and two touchdowns. Seattle won that game handily, dominating the 49ers to the tune of 29-3.
But how did Gore do? Well, Gore had just nine carries for 16 yards with no touchdowns. That's a per-carry average of 1.8 yards. Kaepernick, on the other hand, had 87 yards rushing, but it wasn't enough to get the 49ers the conversions they need and ultimately, the points they needed.
That was clearly not San Francisco's finest day. Wilson completed just eight of 19 passes for 142 yards with a touchdown and an interception. It was Lynch who made that offense function. But how about the second meeting?
The next time the 49ers and Seahawks met, Lynch had 20 carries for 72 yards, which wasn't too far from the other total, but far less efficient. He also had a touchdown. Gore, on the other hand, put up 17 carries for 110 yards, scoring several key first downs and put the 49ers in position to win the game in the final seconds.
San Francisco is 5-4 against the Seahawks since 2009, and Gore has put up 590 yards in the five wins, but barely over 100 yards in the four losses. On the season, Lynch has 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns, with a per-carry average of 4.2 yards. Gore has 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns, but fewer carries and a similar 4.1 yards per carry average.
Both running backs are tough inside runners and both are difficult to tackle. Lynch has the trucking edge, while Gore definitely has better vision. Lynch has youth on his side, but Gore hasn't slowed down yet and he's not expected to suddenly hit a wall on Sunday, unless that wall is the Seattle defense.
What to take away from this: Sunday's game starts with Gore for the Seahawks, and starts with Lynch for the 49ers. Both teams will be focusing on making sure their opponent cannot run the football, as both believe they have what it takes to prevent the other quarterback from winning the game with his arm.