Here's a Thought: Frank Gore had a Career Year in 2009
San Francisco finished the season 8-8 and went through numerous ups and downs all year long which included different shifts in the offensive style. At the beginning of the season they were a smash mouth team, then in midseason they ran almost solely out of the spread offense and not until the end of the season did they find the perfect balance.
Meanwhile, the 49ers went a mildly impressive 5-0 throughout the season when Gore ran the ball over 20 times in a game.
No. 21, the 49ers bread and butter wasn't once unsuccessful in coming up with a victory when made the focal part of the offense.
In week one against Arizona Gore managed just 30 yards rushing on 22 carries but scored both 49er touchdowns and San Francisco was able to win the time of possession battle. This formula of tough running, clock management and stout defense employed early on in the season was exactly the right formula for the 49ers given the talent on their roster.
When you consider the fact that the team who won the time of possession battle in 49er contests this season went 15-1, it comes as a major surprise that Gore was only given 20 or more carries in just five games.
In 49er losses in which Gore was healthy for the entire game, he was given an average of just 12.1 carries per game. In 49er victories, the average carries given to Gore was 22.1 per game.
Now obviously if a team is losing big and needs to put points up fast, they aren't going to run the ball as often and vice versa if they are up big.
However there is a particular stat that shows a disturbing lack of faith in the running game.
Throwing out the week one road win over Arizona where Gore was the focus, there were only two other 49er road games where neither team had a lead of more than 14 points. In the two games against Seattle and Indianapolis, Gore was given just nine and 13 carries respectively.
The game in Indianapolis was the most disturbing when the 49ers ran the ball with Gore just 13 times but let Alex Smith throw the ball 32 times. A game when the formula to win was to keep the best quarterback in the league (Peyton Manning) off the field, the 49ers ran the ball with one of the best running backs in football just 13 times? That run/pass ratio simply doesn't make any sense.
Gore was averaged over seven yards per carry against Indianapolis thanks to his 64-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Over the other 12 carries he averaged just 2.25 yards per carry.
Now you could look at that one of two ways. As a fan you could say that Gore obviously wasn't having a good game if he managed just 27 yards on 12 carries outside his long touchdown run. Or you could look at it and say that if you kept feeding Gore the ball there would be an increased chance for him to break another long run.
San Francisco was leading Indianapolis 14-9 at half time but ran the ball with Gore just four times in the second half. Say what? A five point half time lead and your featured back runs the ball just four times in the second half? Talk about terrible play selection by an offensive coordinator who got pass happy with Alex Smith at quarterback.
Frank Gore is still the best player on the 49ers and yet San Francisco failed to use him when they needed him the most.
While Gore's "official" career year is still that of 2006 when he was named to the Pro Bowl, his 2009 year was actually more impressive.
Let's take a look at the numbers side by side:
Rushing- Attempts: 312 Yards: 1695 AVG: 5.4 TD: 8
Receiving- Catches: 61 Yards: 485 AVG: 8.0 TD: 1
Rushing- Attempts: 229 Yards: 1120 AVG: 4.9 TD: 10
Receiving- Catches: 52 Yards: 406 AVG: 7.8 TD: 3
Now if Gore had been given the same amount of touches in 2009 that he got in 2006, he would have gained 1527 yards on the ground and 476 yards through the air based on his averages. His projected total of 2003 yards would be just 177 fewer total yards than he gained in 2006.
Furthermore, had Gore been given the same amount of touches, he would have scored nine more touchdowns in 2009 than he did in 2006 based on his projected average.
Case in point, Gore was on pace for a season of 2003 total yards and 17 total touchdowns in 2009 had he touched the ball as many times as he did in 2006.
Compare that to his 2180 total yards and just nine total touchdowns on 373 carries back in 2006, and you could argue based on pure projected numbers that Gore had a better year in 2009.
However, Gore's 2009 campaign has a much better case when you consider two important intangibles. One of these intangibles worked against him in 2009 and one worked for him.
Back in 2006, Gore was running behind two of the biggest and baddest dudes in the entire NFL. And by "baddest," I mean dominant.
The left side of the 49ers offensive line was manned by Jonas Jennings and Larry Allen, the latter of whom was named to the Pro Bowl that year.
Both standing at 6' 3" and combining for over 650 pounds, these two offensive juggernauts absolutely feasted on opposing defensive lineman back in 2006 and with Norv Turner calling the plays, a running back like Gore had everything he could have wanted around him.
This season on the other hand, the 49ers had no such dominance on the offensive line. And the left side in particular had a trio of Joe Staley, Barry Sims and David Baas who weren't exactly providing the push at the line of scrimmage that a team is looking for in the running game.
Clearly Gore was working with a worse offensive line in 2009 and what makes that so disappointing from a 49er fans perspective is that Gore showed up much faster this season than he was three years ago.
Back in 2006, Gore broke loose for what many thought would be an easy touchdown in a game against Green Bay. Now despite a 20 yard gap between himself and the nearest defender in the open field, Gore was still tracked down and tackled short of the goal-line. The 49ers ended up settling for a field goal on that particular drive.
However, Gore came into 2009 quicker and stronger than in past years and demonstrated a breakaway speed never seen before from No. 21.
This new found extra kick enabled Gore to tally three touchdowns of over 60 yards this season, setting a career long of 80 against the Seahawks in week two.
Prior to this past season Gore had just three carries over 60 yards in his first four seasons. Yet in 2009 alone he doubled his total to six carries over 60 yards, each one going for a touchdown.
Had the 2009 Gore ran behind the 2006 49er offensive line, 2,000 yards rushing and 15+ rushing touchdowns would have been a major possibility.
As for the sake of the 2010 49ers, let's hope they beef up their offensive line this offseason because Frank Gore is hitting his prime and it would be a disgrace not to witness the explosive numbers he could put up behind better blocking.
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