At age 31, Frank Gore isn’t an upgrade in talent over LeSean McCoy. But after reports from ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the veteran back is on the verge of signing a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, can we look at this move as more of a “scheme fit” for Chip Kelly’s squad?
Think of this in terms of running style when breaking down the Eagles' zone schemes (inside/outside zone, split-zone). Kelly wants a back who is a one-cut runner, a slasher who doesn’t hesitate, give ground or look to laterally bounce the ball when there are vertical lanes to attack.
This is “zone running 101” with backs who press the edge, find running room or cut back to expose linebackers who over-pursue to the ball. Stick the foot in the ground and go.
With Gore, the Eagles will get a veteran player who understands how to get small in the hole, cut to daylight and finish runs by squaring his pads and pushing the ball up the field to attack second-level defenders. A back who can produce out of the gun alignment, Gore is a “fit” for what Kelly wants in his running game.
Check out the vision from Gore as he reads the path of the inside linebackers (strong flow to the open side) and quickly finds a cutback lane off the nose. No wasted movement here. Gore makes one cut and advances the ball through the second level to move the sticks. That’s a veteran back using his eyes to find running room.
Another positive with Gore is his ability to produce numbers after contact. That shows up on the tape when he drops his pads level and runs through defenders to attack the secondary.
Take a look at Gore’s touchdown run versus the Chargers from this past season on the Power O scheme (fullback kick-out, backside guard pull).
Here, we see some patience from Gore as he allows the block to develop, but watch the burst, the downhill acceleration once he finds daylight. This allows Gore to play off the crack block from the wide receiver and drop his pads to run through that second-level contact. Power and leg drive as Gore then uses the stiff arm to beat Eric Weddle in the open field on his way to six points.
I mentioned the gun alignment above, and one scheme that shows up on the Eagles tape is the split-zone with zone blocking up front (zone step) and the tight end (or H-Back) off the ball on the arc block to kick out the backside edge defender.
Now check out the same scheme from the 49ers tape with Gore working out of the gun versus the Rams' seven-man front.
What do we see on this play? The one-cut style that we just talked about with Gore attacking the front side of the formation then making a quick cut up the field off the arc block from tight end Vernon Davis. Again, no hesitation, no wasted movement. Find the lane and take it.
The tape from 2014 and the numbers (1,106 yards) tell the story on Gore, his running style and the ability of the veteran back to produce in a wide variety of schemes/alignments. The way I see it, he can fit into Kelly’s system and add to this offense on the zone runs, the buck sweep, zone read, etc. because of his vision and power.
Gore isn’t a back who will consistently flip the field—and there is going to be a drop-off in the passing game compared to McCoy—but his style does work for an offense that wants a back to attack the hole and move the sticks in the run game.
However, looking past the tape and Gore’s skill set, I have to ask about his age and the number of pro carries left in his legs. That’s a fair question in my opinion. Father Time is still undefeated in this league, and running backs can fade in their 30s. And when that happens, the production drops at an extremely quick rate.
I would expect Kelly to spread the ball around to Chris Polk and Darren Sproles to reduce the workload Gore sees in 2015. Don't grind him down. But I’ve also said this before with Gore at the beginning of the 2013 and ’14 seasons. That’s when I looked for the drop in production, and he proved me wrong both times.
As I said above, Gore is a fit for what Kelly wants in his run game: a tough, downhill back who competes like a vet. He's a true pro. But after trading away McCoy last week to the Bills, the Eagles are rolling the dice a bit that Gore has a season or two left in those veteran legs to produce like a No. 1 back in a system that needs a new leader at the position.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.