Breaking Down the San Francisco 49ers' Ultimate Weapon: Frank Gore
As Frank Gore enters his eighth season in the NFL, he has seen and been through it all as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Injuries, poor team performance and lack of leadership from coaching staffs have never hurt his spirit or ability to perform on game day.
His three Pro Bowl appearances and All-Pro selection speaks volumes as to where he is today and how he fought to get there.
After a horrific knee injury in 2002, many thought his successful playing days at the University of Miami were over, but Gore persevered and spent the following season recovering from the ACL tear. When he returned to action in 2003, he rattled off three straight 100-yard games to open the season and ended up averaging 5.3 yards per carry at season's end.
In 2004, which was his final season at Miami, he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards on just 197 carries. The productive season led him to the 49ers, where they used a third-round pick on him in the 2005 draft.
So, you may be asking, what attributes have helped him become an efficacious NFL running back? Well, after much time spent scrutinizing his play, I have found his top five attributes.
Even though Gore saw a dropoff in receiving production last year, that's no reason to doubt his ability as a pass-catcher.
Since entering the league in 2005, he has always been seen as a dual-threat type of player out of the backfield. There have only been two years in his career where he has caught less than 40 passes, with last year being one of them under new head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Whether Harbaugh doesn't value Gore as a pass-catcher or he simply just asked him to stay in and block more is beside the point because, as you can see in the video above, Gore still has "it."
This screen play is from Week 3 of the 2010 season when they traveled to Kansas City. The 49ers are in 11 personnel and have tight end Vernon Davis lined up in the slot. You can see that on this particular screen play all the receivers are running nine routes, and as soon as Gore catches the screen pass, they cut off their routes and find someone to block downfield.
Even with the good blocking downfield, he still needs to help himself out, which he does in a big way. On the 41-yard catch and run, Gore makes at least two guys miss and shows great open-field vision and burst.
The 109-yard receiving performance went down as his biggest receiving game of the year for 2010.
Lateral movement and quick feet are so important to a running back's success. Players who are strong in these two areas usually are best at making defenders miss and breaking tackles in the open field.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gore finished the 2011 season with 29 forced missed tackles, which placed him in the top 15 in that particular category. By breaking down that number even farther, it reveals to us that he made at least one defender miss once every nine rushing attempts.
Against Philadelphia and its wide-nine defense, Gore had one of his more successful rushing attempts of the season.
On this specific inside-trap play, the Eagles defense has eight defenders in the box to help defend against the run. So what happens? Mike Iupati pulls from the left guard position and creates a wall by throwing a seal block on Cullen Jenkins.
As soon as Gore hits that crease, he is gone. No. 24 Nnamdi Asomugha was slow to react and had to run him down from behind.
But let's rewind for a second. Watch his feet as he fakes out No. 41 at the 50-yard line. The quick display of the pitter-pattering of the feet leave the defender face down on the ground with a missed tackle to his name.
The difference between making that last defender miss was about 25 extra yards of real estate.
Finding complete, every-down running backs in today's NFL is no easy task. It has become a lost art because of the way running backs are viewed. It's not because they aren't good enough to do everything; coaches just want to keep their legs fresh in order to try and preserve their talents.
Which makes total sense. I get it, as players continue to get bigger, faster and stronger on an annual basis. However, it is encouraging when you do find an all-world, all-everything type player. And to me Gore posses the necessary skills of an all-world, all-everything type running back.
One of his most underrated skills is his blocking ability. Take a peak at the video above and you will see exactly what I mean.
This play is from Week 1 of the 2009 season. Gore is in pass protection for quarterback Shaun Hill as they look to hit Isaac Bruce on a timing pattern. The Cardinals were bringing pressure right up the middle on this big third-down play.
Like any good blocker would do, Gore had his quarterback's back by destroying No. 22 Matt Ware. Not a whole lot of analysis on the block except for the fact Ware left the game and didn't return with a head injury.
Frank Gore's ability to sustain and bounce back from injury should be reason enough not to question his toughness, but if that isn't enough for you, just turn on the tape.
His ability to pick up yards after contact is incredible. Last season, Gore picked up 832 yards after contact.
To put that into perspective, let's break it down like this. He had 1,368 yards rushing, and of those 1,368 yards, 832 of them came after contact. Only two other players in the NFL had more yards after contact than him.
And what's the main characteristic that helps a player with yards after contact? Toughness. A running back has to have the ability to bounce off tackles and swat off defenders, just like Gore did here against the Cleveland Browns.
As he meets cornerback Sheldon Brown on the sideline, he says something like, "move [expletive] get out the way!" I doubt that's what he really said, but if you imagine that while watching the run, it makes things more interesting.
As I mentioned in a previous article talking about Steven Jackson, all top-notch running backs possess good vision. You don't have to be the fastest, most skilled running back in the NFL to be successful. There have been plenty of super fast players who have fizzled out because they didn't know how to read a defense.
Not to mention a running back's hole selection has to be incredibly fast considering the game around him is moving so fast. Lucky enough for 49ers fans, this is another area in which Gore excels at. On all four of the previous slides, you could see his vision went hand in hand with these attributes.
In the highlight above, I selected one of my favorite plays where Gore uses his vision to set up an opposing defense. Thank you to NFL Game Rewind for giving everyone access to the All-22 feature, which, in turn, helped me break down this touchdown run.
As Gore takes the handoff out of the backfield, he sees two potential runs in his line of sight. He can either take the outside run off tackle, which would have probably ended in a marginal gain, or he could have taken the run right up the middle.
Which one did he pick? He picked the run up the middle, but he took things a step farther by setting up the play perfectly. He faked as he was going to take the right side run, and then boom; he cut it back right up the middle of the field for a touchdown.