Philosophy: Keep Steve Young healthy by going to the run more. First-year coach Steve Mariucci wanted to balance the attack, and by relying more on the run he also instilled a toughness in the offense and took pressure off Young. But after halfback Garrison Hearst (above) was sidelined with a broken clavicle on Nov. 30 (he may miss at least the Niners' playoff opener), Mariucci restored the aerial attack to prominence. "At this point," he says, "we'll do what we've got to do."
Leading the Way: Bucking team tradition, the 49ers have turned from finesse guards to beefy ones, Ray Brown (305 pounds) and Kevin Gogan (325), who power a running attack geared to the inside. Gogan made the Pro Bowl, but Brown and right tackle Kirk Scrafford probably had better seasons. Hearst says of the quiet Scrafford, "He's old-fashioned mean, like, I'm gonna go fishing, and if you mess with me, I'll rip your head off."
X Factor: Young is 36 and possibly one concussion away from retirement, and he has finally consented to using the feet-first slide. But he still has those halfback instincts, and on a crucial play in an elimination game, do you really expect a man who has averaged 6.3 yards on 81 postseason rushing attempts to exercise restraint?
Prime Numbers: Before Hearst went down, the Niners averaged 3.9 yards per rush. In three games without him, the average dipped to 3.2 yards. Nevertheless, they finished the season with more rushing attempts than passes for the first time since 1984, when they won their second Super Bowl.