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49ers mid-season review: Running backs

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The San Francisco 49ers running back situation has settled into Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. What do you expect to see in the second half of the year as the offensive line potentially gets healthy?

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Ezra Shaw

The San Francisco 49ers are in the midst of their bye week, returning to action in Week 9 against the St. Louis Rams. We are not exactly halfway through the season, but the timing of the bye is close enough that it makes sense to take a look at where everything stands. We will be going through each position over the next five or six days. Yesterday we took a look at the quarterback position. Today, we move on to the running back position.

Starter: Frank Gore

102 rushes, 423 yards, 1 TD, 2 runs of 20+ yards

Football Outsiders
DYAR: 15 out of 35
DVOA: 19 out of 35

Advanced Football Analytics
WPA: 19 out of 40
EPA: 40 out of 40

Pro Football Focus
Grade: -0.2 (t-27th out of 57)
Elusive rating (among RBs with 50% of attempts): 8 out of 11
Elusive rating (among RBs with 25% of attempts): 35 out of 47
Breakaway % (among RBs with 50% of attempts): 7 out of 11
Breakaway % (among RBs with 25% of attempts): 30 out of 46
Pass blocking efficiency (among RBs with 50% of pass block snaps): 9 out of 16
Pass blocking efficiency (among RBs with 25% of pass block snaps): 24 out of 47

Backup: Carlos Hyde

48 rushes, 161 yards, 2 TDs

Football Outsiders
DYAR: 36 out of 55 RBs with 11-55 carries
DVOA: 36 out of 55 RBs with 11-55 carries

Advanced Football Analytics
Not appearing

Pro Football Focus
Grade: -2.3 (t-38th out of 57
Elusive rating (among RBs with 25% of attempts): 10 out of 47
Breakaway % (among RBs with 25% of attempts): 40 out of 46
Pass blocking efficiency (among RBs with 50% of pass block snaps): 15 out of 16
Pass blocking efficiency (among RBs with 25% of pass block snaps): 37 out of 47

PFF is the only one that does not make all of their content public. Here are definitions for the signature stats. And just to clarify, I included 50% and 25% numbers just provide a little context for both Gore and Hyde:

Elusive rating: Assesses RBs success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers
Breakaway %: Which RBs earn the highest (and lowest) percentage of their yardage on big plays (any runs of 15 yards or more)
Pass blocking efficiency: Measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed

NFI: Marcus Lattimore

Before we get into the playing backs, let's take a quick second to chat about Marcus Lattimore. He is expected to start practicing next week when the 49ers return from their bye week. He will have three weeks of practice time before the team needs to add him to the 53-man roster. I expect him to be added to the roster at the end of those three weeks, but I am not expecting significant contributions from him this season. Barring any health issues, I think we see Lattimore inactive most weeks. He does not play special teams

The San Francisco 49ers running back situation had a lot of question marks surrounding their depth chart heading into the preseason. This was a group that included Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Carlos Hyde, LaMichael James, and Marcus Lattimore, among others. Things quickly cleared up, as Hunter tore his ACL and Lattimore opened the season on the NFI list. The 49ers opened the season with Gore, Hyde and LMJ, and that quickly turned into a duo when LMJ was released.

In the seven weeks we have seen Gore and Hyde in tandem, results have been all over the board. Gore had a pair of 100-yard games in Weeks 4 and 5, and Hyde has had some mixed results. It is very clear that Hyde is talented, but as with all young players, it is a matter of finding some consistency, and learning from a guy like Gore. Of course, inconsistent line play has plagued the 49ers all season and the running backs have had to deal with it as well. At times the run blocking looks superb while the pass blocking struggles. Other times it is the opposite. It has been kind of baffling.

At the same time, we see what appears to be significant changes in play calling from week to week. In Week 6, the Rams stacked the box and seemed to dare Colin Kaepernick to beat them consistently. He did so en route to a 49ers win. Against Arizona, the 49ers were missing both Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald. They have proven to be important cogs in run blocking, and the 49ers adjusted their game plan without them. We saw hurry-up, spread out looks quite frequently. The 49ers did not seem to adjust to the Cardinals later adjustments, and that likely cost the 49ers a win. On the other hand, against Philadelphia and Kansas City, we saw plenty from the run game, and the blocking from those units was superb. The 49ers run game seems like a Jekyll and Hyde type of thing.

As the 49ers head into the second half of the season, how will the run game shake out? Marcus Martin will likely be replacing Daniel Kilgore, but the offensive line will also hopefully have a healthy Mike Iupati, and Anthony Davis minus the rust of his first game back. This line was built as a run-blocking unit, so if they are all back and healthy, maybe the 49ers are willing to run a bit more. Against the Rams, the team saw a loaded box, so it made sense. But with what we hope is an improving passing game, maybe the 49ers find some more opportunities to use what has guided them to great success in recent years, a dominant run game.