49ers feel good about rushing attack

Even without rugged fullback Bruce Miller, the San Francisco

49ers feel good about their rushing attack as they head toward the

playoffs for the third consecutive season.

One final tough test comes first.

The 49ers take the NFL’s third-ranked rushing offense to Arizona

on Sunday to face the league’s top-ranked rushing defense. They’ll

do it without regular starter Miller, a key player in San

Francisco’s run scheme who will miss the rest of the season because

of a shoulder injury.

Anthony Dixon and newcomer Will Tukuafu played well in Miller’s

place Monday night as the 49ers rolled to 199 yards on the ground

in a 34-24 victory over Atlanta that clinched a playoff berth.

And with All-Pro left guard Mike Iupati back in the lineup after

a four-game absence, San Francisco’s running game appears to be

peaking at the right time for a team ranked 31st in the NFL in

passing offense.

After a November lull when the 49ers rushed for 83 yards or

fewer in three consecutive games, San Francisco (11-4) has averaged

183 yards on the ground the past three weeks while building

momentum during a five-game winning streak.

”We had a slump there but we all talked about it and said we

had to get back on track,” halfback Frank Gore said Friday. ”We

had to get all the grinding yards, all the tough yards, and that’s

what we’re doing now. We attack. Our O-line is doing a great job

attacking, I’m attacking, Kendall (Hunter) attacking, so we’re

ready to play.”

Nobody seems more ready than Gore, a four-time Pro Bowl player

who’s completing another outstanding season as the main man in San

Francisco’s attack. Gore ranks seventh in the NFL with 1,114

rushing yards -the seventh 1,000-yard season of his nine-year

career – and he enters Sunday’s game needing 47 yards to reach the

10,000-yard career threshold.

Gore’s not the only one closing in on a rushing standard. Colin

Kaepernick, who has 500 yards rushing this season, needs 38 against

the Cardinals to break Steve Young’s franchise record for most

rushing yards by a quarterback in a season.

With Hunter (345 yards rushing) complementing Gore with his

change-of-pace quickness – Hunter’s season-longest 45-yard run set

up a short touchdown run by Gore against Atlanta – the 49ers

pounded Atlanta on the ground in their first game without Miller,

who was injured Dec.15.

Miller was a Pro Bowl alternate for his play in front of Gore

last season, but Dixon and Tukuafu both opened holes with their

blocking against the Falcons. They combined for 23 snaps and coach

Jim Harbaugh said, ”They both did very well and we can build on

that, add to what each does going forward.”

Tukuafu was playing his first game of the season after signing a

two-year deal with the team Dec. 18. The 293-pound Tukuafu

originally was a defensive lineman who played both positions for

the 49ers last season before being released in September.

”If the team was going to bring me in, it was to contribute,”

Tukuafu said. ”I just tried to go in and do my job out there. I

wasn’t with the guys when they were grinding it out the whole

season, but we feel good with the running game, and you have to

have that sense of confidence when you’re going to make that

postseason run.”

The 49ers can bolster that confidence with another strong

showing against Arizona, which allows a NFL-low 84.5 yards per game

on the ground.

The 49ers rushed for 149 yards during their 32-20 win over the

Cardinals on Oct. 13 in San Francisco. After Arizona had crept

within 22-20 in the third quarter, the 49ers put away that game

with an 18-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that featured 11 running

plays and lasted more than nine minutes.

”We’re going to treat it like a playoff game, and I know

they’re going to come to play,” Gore said. ”Their front seven

plays great together, they’re very physical and run to the ball.

But we’re built for it, and we’re going to be ready.”

NOTES: The 49ers placed WR Mario Manningham on injured reserve

Friday. The sixth-year veteran missed San Francisco’s first eight

games this season while still recovering from torn knee ligaments

suffered late last season. He re-injured his knee Dec. 15 at Tampa

Bay. . LB Dan Skuta (foot injury) is listed as questionable to play

against the Cardinals.