Frank Gore remains the heart and soul of the 49ers offense.
Pretty heady stuff, huh?
Seemingly banal statements notwithstanding, Gore is the key to the 49ers achieving success on offense. Their winning identity is inextricably linked to the bruising nine-year pro.
Nowhere has this fundamental truth been more apparent for the boys rocking the red and gold than in the first seven games that have transpired in 2013.
During opening week of the NFL campaign, many would point to quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the primary reason the 49ers emerged victorious over the Green Bay Packers. After all, he threw three touchdown passes and racked up a career-high 412 yards passing in an epic shootout with the venerable Aaron Rodgers.
I'd have to agree somewhat, but I would like to underscore a more basic yet equally important development.
Gore totaled just 41 yards rushing against the Packers. Despite the meager output, his steady dose of 21 carries provided the cohesive backdrop for Kaepernick’s aerial assault. If Kap was the F/A-18 Hornet, then Gore was the aircraft carrier from which the fighter jet was able to launch its successful attack.
Metaphors not your fancy? Gore also punched in the go-ahead score with just under six minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
And worry not—we’re just getting started.
Following the tone-setting Week 1 victory, the 49ers experienced a disturbing regression. Spoiler alert: it had something to do with a certain player wearing No. 21.
San Francisco lost its next two games in rather demoralizing fashion. The Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts crushed Jim Harbaugh’s squad by a combined score of 56-10. In those losing contests, Gore accumulated 20 total carries, a mark he eclipsed in one game alone—a 49ers win.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman abandoned the Gore-led rushing attack for reasons still unbeknownst to many Niner fans. And he did so at the worst place imaginable—the ever-hostile CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Gore received a mere six backfield touches in the first half. He did not even get a carry on second down until late in the third quarter, which came coincidentally on the 49ers' lone scoring drive.
The Seahawks’ defensive front may have been winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. But completely neglecting Gore after short gains on first downs stifled any potential offensive production in a road matchup that required total ball-control, keep-away football.
Kaepernick and the team suffered dearly without Gore leading the way.
An upward trajectory in the win column seemed to find the 49ers one week later.
After falling behind 7-0 at home to the Colts, Gore responded with runs of 22, 11 and 21 yards on a subsequent drive. He paved the way into Indianapolis territory and helped propel fellow running back Kendall Hunter for a 13-yard score.
Regrettably, Gore disappeared from the offensive game plan at yet another inopportune time.
The Andrew Luck-led Colts had just completed a sustained scoring drive lasting over five minutes. They were up 13-7 with nearly seven minutes remaining in the third quarter. Instead of continuing to advance by way of the ground—Gore had already accrued 82 yards on just 11 carries—the 49ers pursued a different approach and predictably went stagnant.
Gore did not touch ball once more out of the backfield. The offense never reached the end zone. The team lost by 20.
Having presumably learned its lesson, the 49ers’ coaching staff went, for lack of a better phrase, back to the basics.
They fed the rock to one Franklin Gore, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
Gore has pounded opposing defenses to the tune of 21-plus carries per game over the past four contests. He has registered two 100-yard outputs and has found touchdown paydirt four times. Kaepernick himself recorded an essentially perfect QBR of 99.0 in the latest Gore-powered win over the Tennessee Titans.
So, coming full circle, let’s make abundantly clear one idea: when Gore runs, the wins will come.
When Gore averages 21 carries, the team scores at least 31 points and the 49ers win—every time. The 2013 campaign for this 5-2 club has simply dictated as much. Now, Gore might not maintain an exact 21.4-carry average and San Francisco may not average 33.2 points the rest of the way.
But Gore remains one of the top backs in the NFL. And the 49ers can win with him—30-plus points or not.
The reputable minds at Pro Football Focus have awarded Gore the No. 2 overall ranking among the 53 NFL running backs who qualify (membership required). This mark includes the fourth-highest grade for rushing, the best score for blocking and, most revealing, the third-highest total for yards after contact with 291.
Even after passing the age-that-shall-not-be-named for running backs (i.e., 30 years old), Gore is on pace for the most rushing touchdowns (11) and second-most rushing yards (1,250) of his illustrious career. He can still carry the load.
Yes, the 49ers must get Frank Gore more involved on offense.
They must ride the back of No. 21 in order for their massive potential to turn into tangible reality—one where near-perfect QBRs, consecutive NFC West titles and Super Bowl berths reign supreme.
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