Why Frank Gore is the Key to the San Francisco 49ers' Title Run

Michael SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 27, 2013

If the San Francisco 49ers have any hopes at a postseason banquet, they better make sure running back Frank Gore has a prominent seat at the table. 

It's Week 4, but the 49ers just faced as much of a must-win game as any team could so early in the season. The 49ers are now back to .500 and avoid the dreaded 1-3 (a mark from which no team went to the playoffs in 2012). 

The difference against the St. Louis Rams was clear as fog-free day out on the bay. Gore finished the night with 153 yards on 20 carries—a 7.7 yards per carry average. He had not crossed 100 yards so far in 2013 and wasn't even the team's leading rusher in Week 2's thrashing by the Seattle Seahawks

Without Gore running like, well, Frank Gore, the 49ers didn't look like the 49ers. To use head coach Jim Harbaugh's former job as an analogy, the offense looked less like Stanford's smashmouth offense and more like Lane Kiffin's USC mushmouth offense. 

So, while the national media wrung out their pretty little hands about quarterback Colin Kaepernick all week long, the true story was that the 49ers forgot their roots. Maybe the passing success of Week 1 was a siren call to a more wide-open offense. Maybe, stapling Kaepernick to the pocket and turning him into the passer is a long-term decision. 

Whatever it is, that kind of weak-sauce offense wasn't what this 49ers team signed up for. 

As for Week 4, that performance was much more palatable for a beast of a back like Gore, who feasted upon rushing yardage like a rabid minotaur on the entrails of a poor lost soul. "Lost" is also an apt way to describe the Rams defense as well. They had a plan. The plan stopped working when they realized their well-laid plans didn't account for a bulldozer named "Frank" driving right up the middle of their line. 

Passing, in the NFL, is the preferred method for scoring points. However, the 49ers aren't built like every other NFL team. For the Niners, the cumulative effect of a back like Gore (or Anthony Dixon) running headlong into defenders and still getting yards is demoralizing and physically punishing. 

Stats from ESPN.com
Stats from ESPN.com

Give up a big pass? OK, line back up and get after it again. 

Give up a big run after getting trucked by a guy? Pick up your manhood on the way out the door. 

Like a QB picking on a young defensive back, running backs know who their huckleberry is going to be as they get to the second level of the defense. As the game wears on, that list of rubes grows bigger and bigger. 

This is the dynamic the 49ers are built for. Big hulking linemen like Joe Staley (who appears to have avoided serious injury late in the game), Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati can pass-block, but they're better suited for butt-kicking, road-grading and name-taking. 

This run by Gore is entirely representative of what the 49ers are built to do. The name of this formation is the "Tank" formation—not "Pro" or "Ace" or "Joker," "tank." It's two tight ends, two running backs and one wide receiver. What makes it even more 49er-esque, the receiver is Anquan Boldin who happens to be one of the toughest S.O.B.s and best blockers in the NFL. 

Simple off-tackle run, but Staley seals things off inside while Boldin dominates his man on the edge. The rest of the offensive line manhandles their assignments as well. 

Say goodnight, Gracie.

You know what a run game sets up really well? The passing game. The 49ers' third passing touchdown of the night was a jumbo formation in the red zone. It came, literally, on the tail end of a drive where Gore had rushed for over 20 yards and demoralized the Rams defense. 

It's really difficult to stop tight end Vernon Davis on a free release when you're hellbent on not letting that Gore guy run you over for an umpteenth time. 

You know what else a good run game can set up? More running! 

Remember all that hemming and hawing by critics about Kaepernick—pundits saying that defenses had "figured him out?" Poppycock! There's zero magic formula for stopping talented passers who happen to be fantastic athletes. 

No, what is stymying the San Francisco offense was a lack of intensity and a lack of commitment to the run. That's what the 49ers had last season. It's what opens up passing lanes, option possibilities and play-action passing. 

The Niners got back to their roots against the Rams. In future weeks, games against the Houston, Arizona and Tennessee defenses aren't going to do them any favors. If they want to succeed, they can not stray from this battle plan as they did in the first three weeks. 

If the 49ers want any shot at returning to the Super Bowl in February, Frank Gore's got to be fed.

Don't worry, the man's hungry. 


Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route