Frank Gore Out for the Season: 5 San Francisco 49ers That Must Pick Up the Slack
Frank Gore is expected to miss the rest of the season after breaking his right hip during a Monday night game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers still went on to win 27-6.
The injury costs San Francisco its best offensive player and is a major blow to its chances of making the playoffs.
But they aren't out of it yet. Even with a 4-7 record, the 49ers are only one game behind both St. Louis and Seattle and have one game left against each team.
With five games remaining the 49ers have an opportunity to avenge their 0-5 start to the season and capture the NFC West title. However, they'll have to do it without their leading rusher.
Here's a look at the five players who must step up in Gore's absence to give San Francisco a chance at making the playoffs.
5. Ted Ginn, Jr.
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Ginn hasn't really factored into the 49ers offense this season, catching only seven passes for 86 yards all season. One thing Ginn does have, however, is speed.
While with the Miami Dolphins, Ginn was sometimes used in WR reverse plays. He had two rushing touchdowns in 2008 and owns a career average of 7.5 yards/rush.
He's only officially run the ball twice this season for 11 yards, but with Gore out the San Francisco coaches may want to get a bit fancy to try to gain an edge. If that's the case, Ginn has to be their guy.
4. Vernon Davis
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Davis actually leads the 49ers in receiving with 40 receptions for 548 yards and four touchdowns. At 6'3" and 250 pounds, with the hands of a wide receiver, he's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
However, he hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers and only has eight receptions in his last four games.
The 49ers need to go back to Davis, and often, if they hope to take attention away from the running game.
3. Michael Crabtree
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With Gore gone, Crabtree becomes the most dynamic offensive player on the 49ers roster.
The much-hyped first round pick out of Texas Tech has had a lackluster sophomore season in San Francisco, but that's more because the 49ers can't seem to decide on a quarterback. With Troy Smith apparently established as the choice, Crabtree has the opportunity to take off.
He has 38 receptions for 509 yards and five touchdowns this season, but he's only been targeted 68 times (an average of barely six per game). That has to change. Crabtree is a uniquely skilled player who has the ability to stretch the field (29 of his 36 receptions have been for a first down).
Look for the 49ers offense to lean on him heavily in the passing game as San Francisco adjusts to life without Gore.
2. Troy Smith
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The 49ers are 3-1 since Troy Smith became their starting quarterback, and that trend has to continue.
Smith's numbers are hardly eye-popping for a team that has the 21st-ranked passing offense in the NFL at 209.5 yards/game.
Against Arizona he completed 11 of 23 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception and carried the ball three times.
San Francisco is clearly a team that relies heavily on the running game to put points on the board, but with Gore out Smith will have to contribute more.
The only time this season that Smith has thrown for over 200 yards was in a game against the St. Louis Rams in Week 10. Smith was terrific, throwing for 356 yards and completing over 60 percent of his passes. He'll need to have more games like that going forward if the 49ers hope to stay competitive.
1. Brian Westbrook
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Westbrook replaced Gore in the backfield after Gore's injury and had a phenomenal day. He carried the ball 23 times for 136 yards and a touchdown in helping pace the offense against a hapless Cardinals defense.
Westbrook is no stranger to being the feature back. He was one of the NFL's most versatile players as a lethal pass-catching back (something Gore is pretty good at too) for the Philadelphia Eagles.
He rushed for nearly 3,500 yards and 23 touchdowns in the span of three seasons from 2006 to 2008. A pair of concussions, however, knocked Westbrook out for most of the 2009 season.
The 31-year-old running back had only five carries all season before Monday's outburst, but he showed his veteran legs still have some quickness left in them.
Westbrook will have to shoulder the bulk of the carrying load with Gore out. If he can replicate his numbers from Monday's win, then he may make San Francisco fans forget they miss Gore in the first place.