As Frank Gore cruised his way 20 yards into the end-zone for what would have been the winning touchdown on any normal day of 49er football, I was probably left thinking the same thing many of you were left thinking, "Frank Gore is awesome."
Sadly, the unstoppable Rams offense responded with their second 80+ yard touchdown drive of the game, and their second drive of at least 7+ minutes - and it took the lead, and the win, away.
In a year that has brought us an elite defense with some regression and some flat days, a special teams unit that looks at times like one of the worst in the league, and an offense that sets NFL records one Sunday and gets manhandled the next, with no regard to whether the defense they're playing is any good or not - it's nice to see some things staying consistent.
Michael Crabtree is one of those consistencies. His catches should be ruled automatic first downs. The offensive line in terms of run blocking is one of those consistencies. They lead one of the NFL's historic rushing attacks. Andy Lee, as usual, is also one of those consistencies - even if his coverage unit has fallen off a cliff.
But, more than anything, Gore has been that consistency. And it seems only fitting that a guy who was supposed to be over-the-hill every year for the past three years, but who has been a 49er from start to finish, is having arguably his best season yet.
Projections: Gore Is Finished
Various people - from pundits to fans to stat-geeks - were projecting a drop in production from Gore this year.
Though I still thought Gore could hit holes hard and had the patience and vision of a premier back, it seemed clear to me and everyone else that we were moving towards a committee rushing approach with the additions of Jacobs and LMJ; and of course Hunter's role was bound to be expanded.
As this post carries on you will see some stats from the past couple of years that suggested Gore had indeed seen his best days. Even the "eye-ball test" suggested Gore had lost a step. His heart was still in it, but a workhorse for a franchise in its losing years, at the age of 29, was not going to increase his production or efficiency out of nowhere.
Or so "they" said.
Advanced Stats and the Ageless Wonder
But what did the advanced stats say?
Gore ranked second-to-last in 2011 among backs in terms of Expected Points Added (EPA), in front of only Chris Johnson's terrible campaign. He also ranked 51st out of 63 in Win Probability Added. Gore was costing the team points.
His success rate as judged by advancednflstats.com was 49th, at 37.4%; and his yards per carry (4.4) was good for middle-of-the-pack.
Then in 2012, out of nowhere, he comes in top five in every category through nine games:
- 5th in EPA
- 5th in YPC
- 4th in WPA
- 4th in Success Rate
While in 2011 he was judged a detriment, he has been a huge success in 2012. It's not something that makes much sense, as Gore grows closer each and every day to the point of no return: age 30.
Last year, a tell-tale sign of Gore's age was his loss of efficiency once he accrued 10+ carries in a game. In his first 10 carries, Gore averaged 5.0 yards; but in carries 11 through 20, Gore averaged just 3.9.
Then 2012 came. This year, Gore is averaging 5.4 on his first 10 carries, and 5.5 on his second 10. Helping him along is his 28 rushes of 10+ yards - good for 2nd in the league.
Coming into the season, Football Outsiders projected 216 carries for Gore, but nothing more than about 225, for 871 yards (4.0 per carry), with 7 touchdowns.
He's currently on pace for about 250 attempts, 1350 yards at 5.4 per carry, and 9 touchdowns.
9 touchdowns would beat his 2006 campaign. 5.4 a carry would match it. 1350 yards would be the second highest total of his career. Gore is also on pace for the second highest yards from scrimmage total of his career.
Gore is one of only 17 players in NFL history to average at least 5 yards a carry at the age of 29 or older (min. 100 att.). Out of every 29-year-old running back to reach that attempt minimum, Gore is also averaging the second highest YPC - behind only Barry Sanders in 1997.
Most believed there was no reason to expect anything but a step down from Gore in 2012, and a step up from Hunter, with LMJ and Jacobs playing supporting roles. Instead, all we have seen is Gore reprise his role as the feature back, Hunter remain the reliever, and LMJ and Jacobs remain on the bench, unneeded.
Football Outsiders says?
In both of the past two years, Gore ranked as one of the worst backs in the league in terms of broken tackles. Out of those with a minimum of 80 touches (rushes plus receptions), Gore placed as the 5th worst back in 2010 and the 6th worst in 2011, with his broken tackle percentage (BT%) dropping from 4.4 to 4.0. From 2009 to 2011, Gore averaged a 5.6 BT%.
Though, yes, two of those years came in the Pre-Harbaugh Era - where we ran through offensive coordinators, quarterbacks, and linemen as fast as Singletary could drop his trousers - remember that even last year, with Harbaugh at the helm, Gore had his worst percentage of the three years.
There was really nothing in the numbers to suggest that Gore could suddenly break out of the trend.
In DVOA, Gore was experiencing similar ineptitude. In 2010, out of 46 qualified backs, he finished 33rd and 34th in DYAR and DVOA, respectively, and 15th in success rate, at 48%. Even in the passing game, Gore ranked on-whole in the mid-30s out of 54 backs, with a 64% catch rate - good for 6th worst.
The following year, it somehow got worse. He finished 47th and 44th in DYAR and DVOA out of 50 qualified backs, and 45th in success rate, at 42%. In the passing game, he also finished in the mid-40's out of 50 backs, with an even worse catch rate of 55% - good for 2nd worst.
If anything, Gore was not just over the hill, he had already passed it after 2008 and was now tumbling down at full speed.
Then came 2012.
Through nine games, Gore ranks 2nd in both DYAR and DVOA and 5th in success rate (53%). In receiving, he ranks 18th and 19th in DYAR and DVOA, with a 79% catch rate.
His 39.9% DVOA improvement from last year to this may be one of the biggest jumps in the history of DVOA. Even in 2006 - Gore's Pro Bowl, 1,600-yard, 5+ per carry season - his DVOA was only 9.6% and his success rate 47%.
Bucking Trends, Breaking Tackles
How the sudden turnaround for Gore, then?
Harbaugh once mentioned that it would take two full years for players to become fully acclimated to his system. That could have something to do with it. Finally having something other than a terrible offensive line probably has the most to do with it, though.
So what about when Gore is not running freely into space thanks to his superb o-line, but is forced to break a tackle?
Well, I could not find 2012 numbers for broken tackles. I am poor and unemployed and have not been able to buy all the fancy stat site packages that I was drooling over this summer. Hopefully that changes this week.
But judging off his high number of 10+ yard runs referenced above, we have to assume he is doing better. It's not like all 28 of those runs came without Gore having a single finger put on him.
If we arbitrarily say, then, that on at least half of his 10+ yard runs he managed to break at least one tackle, and that he has not broken a tackle on any of his other touches, that gives him 14. Through 159 touches, that's good for about 8.4%, which happens to be his 2009 broken tackle percentage.
Obviously, that was very unscientific. And very conservative. My gut says he has more than that. Regardless, 14 is already more than his 12 last year, or his 11 in 2010. And if my gut is right, his BT% should be higher than the 8.4% of '09, as well.
Last year, 20 backs recorded at least 20 broken tackles according to FO. My gut says Gore is already near that amount through just nine games in 2012. Which means Gore might double his three-year BT% average.
Your gut could disagree; but then you can take that up with Frank Gore himself. If you've... uhh... got the guts.
But you... uhh... might be in for... some... umm... inconvenient truth.
What a terrible joke. And a terrible way to end an article.