San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore's Value Against the Seattle Seahawks

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San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore's Value Against the Seattle Seahawks
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Frank Gore has had some big days against Seattle.

Frank Gore might well be ageless.  Most running backs tend to significantly decline after their age 27 season; Gore has hit age 30 and keeps on trucking away. 

His 1,128 rushing yards this season fits squarely into his career average of 1,107 yards a season, and he’s finished in the top 10 in rushing yards in each of the last three seasons.  Despite all the statistical indicators pointing to possible regression, Gore is still a key focal point of the San Francisco offense.

And, just like Marshawn Lynch has been a thorn in San Francisco’s side, Gore has put up big numbers against Seattle over his career.  His 1,364 career rushing yards against the Seahawks are his most against any one team, and his 5.33 yards per attempt are the most against any one opponent Gore’s played at least six times.  He’s had some extremely productive individual days against the club, as well:

Date

Result

Location

Att

Yds

Y/A

Notes

11/19/2006

W, 20-14

SF

24

212

8.83

49ers single-game rushing record.

12/14/2006

W, 24-14

SEA

29

144

4.97

104 yards in the 4th quarter to fuel comeback.

11/12/2007

L, 0-24

SEA

13

72

5.54

 

10/26/2008

L, 13-34

SF

18

94

5.22

Also 65 yards receiving.

9/20/2009

W, 23-10

SF

16

207

12.94

Includes 79- and 80-yard touchdown runs

10/18/2012

W, 13-16

SF

16

131

8.19

Also 51 yards receiving.

12/08/2013

W, 19-17

SF

17

110

6.47

51-yard rush to clinch game in 4th quarter.

 

Of course, it’s not always roses and sunshine for Gore in Seattle.  In the first matchup this season, Gore only carried the ball nine times, for a grand total of 16 yards.  Only three of those carries came after halftime, in what was still a 5-0 deficit.  Is it any wonder that the Seahawks pulled away with that one?  Going away from what has been the bread-and-butter of the 49ers’ offense for years was a strategic decision that made little sense at the time, and makes even less sense in retrospect.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

In fact, while there’s some correlation versus causation noise in the data, as Gore goes, so do the 49ers, at least when it comes to Seattle. 

In the five games San Francisco has won since 2009, Gore's rushed for an average of 118 yards a game, with the 207-yard game in 2009 being his high-water mark, and never rushing for less than 59. 

Conversely, in the four losses Gore has played in, Gore's averaged less than 27 yards per game, and never more than 38.  Yes, teams run more when they’re leading, so running backs get more yards in victories, but that’s still quite the stark split there.  Getting Gore established seems to be key if the 49ers have any hope of winning this game.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll seems to agree, at least somewhat, with that diagnosis, telling the Seattle Times that “if you make a mistake, he takes advantage of it, and he certainly did that against us.”

Tony Avelar/Associated Press
Joe Staley and Mike Iupati have blocked well for Gore this season.

Gore’s been the best this season running to his left, behind Joe Staley and Mike Iupati.  Gore has 48 rushes marked as either going through left tackle or left guard for 251 yards, an average of 5.2 yards per carry.   His actual carries, however, are more spread out behind the entire line, with runs a slight plurality associated to runs around edge. 

In short, there isn’t a clear statistical preference on where the 49ers like to use Gore, meaning it’ll be up to the entire offensive line to try to take down Seattle’s star run defense—it’s not just a case of, say, Joe Staley against Chris Clemons.

One of the reasons Gore is able to run all over the line with a general high level of success is his vision—he’s patient, and he has an uncanny ability to find the holes as they develop.  The single most important thing a defense can do to stop him is to maintain solid gap discipline, and not over-pursue the play.  He doesn’t have the same cutback ability as, say, LeSean McCoy, nor is his top speed particularly impressive for an NFL player.

The reason he’s been able to be successful is his ability to find even the smallest holes, lower his center of gravity and squirt through to the second level, with blockers on the way.  He gets his long runs not by explosiveness, but by wearing down the defense play after play—that’s how the 51-yard rush happened in the last matchup between the two teams; play after play of Gore smashing through the line softened them up just enough for him to slip through a hole and hoof it downfield.

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Is it fair to say as Gore goes, so go the 49ers?  Not entirely—they’ve won this season with Gore held to 31 yards, and they’ve lost despite 80+ yards from their featured back.  Especially against a defense as talented as Seattle, no one player is going to be enough to produce a victory—it has to be a team effort, or nothing.  Still, the 49ers have to learn from their first matchup and keep Gore in the flow of the game early and often.

Considering the peak level at which Seattle’s defense is playing, Gore may not be able to match his 5.3-yards-a-carry career average in this matchup, but those two- or three-yard gains add up over the course of the game.  The 49ers need to give the ball to Gore early and often, and hope he has a solid day, or they’ll find themselves watching Super Bowl XLVIII on the couch.

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