The San Francisco 49ers are 9-2, their best start since 2001. In trying to understand the team’s sudden success, many are pointing to some combination of new coach Jim Harbaugh and supposedly resurrected quarterback Alex Smith as the reason for the change.
The one person nobody seems to mention, though, is running back Frank Gore. While Smith and Harbaugh have bumped the Niners up to be the league’s 29th-best passing team, Gore has made them the seventh-best rushing team in the NFL. In a league in which RBs only last for three to five years, Gore is playing in his seventh season, and he played all of them for SF. Since he became a starter in his second year, Gore has rushed for fewer than 1,000 yards in only one season (2010, when he only played eleven games and still rushed for 853 yards), and he never averaged fewer than 4.2 yards per carry. Although his receiving numbers are severely down this year, that’s likely due to Harbaugh-induced schematic changes, and with 909 rushing yards through eleven games, Gore should have no problem finishing on the high side of 1,000 again this year.
While Gore hasn’t done anything out of his ordinary this year, observers’ ignorance of his role in the 49ers’ success requires explanation.