49ers mailbag: Why Dixon and not Gore late in game?

49ers mailbag: Why Dixon and not Gore late in game?
January 25, 2012, 11:05 pm
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The 49ers' season-ending loss is still fresh in the minds of a lot of people, and here are a couple pertinent leftover questions from their 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants.Q: Why was Anthony Dixon running the ball on 3rd & 1 and not Frank Gore in the fourth quarter? (Anthony Barton)
A: This is a question that I pondered at the time, and I still can't make sense of it.

As the No. 3 running back, Anthony Dixon carried the ball 29 times all season and averaged 3.0 yards a carry. At the start of the fourth quarter, the 49ers were driving. Gore picked up 11 yards. Then, he had a 6-yard gain.On second-and-four from the Giants' 49, the 49ers got a little too cute. Dixon came into the game for his first offensive snap of the game. Defensive linemen Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga joined him.Dixon picked up 3 yards to set up a third-and-1. Dixon, Smith and Sopoaga remained on the field for that crucial play.Left guard Mike Iupati moved to right guard, as the 49ers overloaded that side of their formation. Dixon appeared to have an opening between Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis, but Dixon chose the next gap and was stopped for no gain.The 49ers punted it away on fourth down and squandered an opportunity to build on their 14-10 lead.In two playoff games, Gore carried 29 times for 163 yards (5.6 average). He had not been limited in a practice in more than a month due to any injury. Gore played 105 of the 49ers' 125 offensive snaps in the postseason. He was healthy, as his production in the playoffs seemed to prove. But the 49ers got away from running on first down. When Kendall Hunter gained 18 yards on a run play with 7:39 remaining in regulation, that was the last time in the game the 49ers attempted a run on first down.Q: Is it the WRs that aren't getting open, or is it Alex Smith missing the open windows? (Jack Britton)A: Michael Crabtree wanted more opportunities. He was targeted five times in Sunday's game, and came down with just one catch for 3 yards.The day after the game, he echoed his comments from after the game. He told CSNBayArea.com that he looked around the league and saw receivers getting passes thrown to them when there were two or three defenders in coverage.As I watch the game from the press box, I mostly follow the football. There was one time in which I noted that Crabtree appeared to be wide open out of the slot position in the third quarter but the pass didn't go his way. Instead, Smith's pass attempt to Gore was batted down at the line by Jason Pierre-Paul.Generally, though, I'd say Crabtree was not getting open, and Smith wasn't taking any chances.After all, the 49ers tied an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season. It's what Smith did best this season. He threw only five interceptions because he did not take a lot of risks.