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Grant Cohn: Jaguars offer opportunity for 49ers to test-drive a few options

  • Kendall Hunter might find room to run against porous Jaguars defense. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Beating the Jaguars is way down the list of important things the 49ers must accomplish this weekend. Beating the Jaguars isn't even top-three. Beating the Jaguars is expected. Everyone beats the Jaguars. The Jaguars are the worst.

The 49ers should treat this game like an exhibition or a scrimmage. There is no way the 49ers lose to the Jaguars. If the 49ers show up, they win. And they're already in London, so they already have a 10-point lead.

This game is an opportunity for the 49ers to work on a few specific weaknesses and improve for the second-half of the season. The 49ers have issues on offense and defense and special teams.

On offense, the 49ers must refrain from handing the ball off to Frank Gore over and over again, although they could win that way. They've been winning that way recently. Gore has carried the ball 86 times the past four games, more carries than he's had in any four-game stretch since Jim Harbaugh became the 49ers' head coach in 2011. Gore is taking a ton of contact, especially considering how much he blocks.

That trend needs to end. The 49ers need Gore fresh for the playoffs. It's important for him to rush 25 times against their first playoff opponent, not the Jaguars. The 49ers shouldn't wear Gore down like they did two seasons ago – Gore carried the ball 159 times the first eight games of 2011 and then averaged just 3.5 yards per carry after that.

The 49ers should give Gore the week off. Why not? The Jaguars have the worst run-defense in the league. They can't hold their ground against the 49ers' elite offensive line.

The 49ers should give the ball to Kendall Hunter. The Niners need Hunter. They have run the ball on 62 percent of their plays the past three games, and Gore has gotten most of those carries. The 49ers need a No.2 running back to share the load with their 30-year-old No.1 running back.

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