Word on these NFL streets is that the running back has become as unimportant and interchangeable as singers who use auto-tune.
Today’s game, they say, is all about the tossing and slashing prowess of the QB and the triple-digit, pass-grabbing pieces of big-time aerial offenses.
Let the 49ers Frank Gore tell it and that theory is hog wash.
While QB Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers vaunted spread option attack gets all of the shine, to ignore the most important piece of the squad’s 2013 campaign, is just something astute football heads can’t do.
The veteran bulldozer’s legs—the same ones that NFL pundits say don’t really impact today’s game anymore—have motored them back into NFC West contention after a 1-2 start.
“San Francisco may be the only place where the running game still opens up the passing game,” ESPN analyst Gary Horton said. “A good Frank Gore day is a good day for [49ers quarterback Kaepernick]. … I really think Gore is the most important cog in that offense, and you can’t say that about many running backs in this league anymore.”
Gore showed just how valuable he is to the 49ers the past two weeks. After being outscored 56-10 in back-to-back losses against Seattle and Indianapolis, the 49ers have toasted their opponents 69-14 over the last two games. In the two losses, Gore had just 20 carries and 98 yards.
The two-game losing streak was the squads first under third-year coach Jim Harbaugh and with Kaepernick, who has barely played a full 16-game NFL season, experiencing some growing pains. With the wide receiver corps looking thinner than Kerry Washington in a Scandal episode, Gore has become the focal point of the offense. He’s reminding all the haters that the ground game is still making noise in the NFL. In the past two victories, he’s carried the rock 37 times for 234 yards.
First he pounded St. Louis for 153, his highest total in four years. He then added a crucial 81 yards on Monday night in a 34-3 rout of the Texans.
Over his dope eight-year career, the 30-year-old O.G. rock-toter has always been the X-factor for the 49ers. When it’s time to go smash mouth with the ball control, eat some clock or ice a game, there are few better options than the former Miami Hurricane.
At just 5-9 and 217 pounds, Gore has played 3,490 snaps since 2008, fifth-most by a running back during that span. Since entering the pros his 9,215 career rushing yards is a 49ers franchise record.
On Sunday, he helped them maintain possession and dictate the game’s flow, despite Kaepernick throwing for just 113 yards. In fact, Kap only tossed the rock 15 times and showed the inconsistencies that have thwarted the 49ers and highlighted the importance of a “forgotten superstar."
Kaepernick threw seven-straight incompletions and looked pretty human before flexing his skills on a 64-year TD to Vernon Davis late in the 4th-quarter.
It was Gore, who opened up those passing lanes and a ball-hawking defense (three picks) that placed the “non-factor” label on Texans QB Matt Schaub.
The perfect recipe for NFL success remains a mixture of the new-school skinny jeans philosophy of throw until you blow, with some ‘80s Eric Dickerson gazelle-goggles topping off the outfit. Blending in the run game isn’t always pretty, but it remains a viable way to win rings in the pass-drunk NFL.
B-More exhibited the perfect partnership of defense, passing and rushing in 2012. Despite having no superstar receivers on offense, they were able to make big plays and set up easy opportunities for QB Joe Flacco by having a threatening bulldog named Ray Rice busting stuff up in the trenches.
Despite having two of the most prolific passers in NFL history in Steve Young and Joe Montana and a crop of the best receivers to ever do it in cats like Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Terrell Owens—real estate raiders like Roger Craig, Wendell Tyler and Ricky Watters always figured prominently in the 49ers’ success. Lombardi Trophies were always won with that formula, and while the game has surely changed into an arena –football type of fiasco, the principles remain the same.
Don’t sleep on the run game, because football is a sport based on the physical destruction of your enemy. Like a boxing match, there are only a few times in a fight when you can go for the knockout punch. Sure, the 49ers will be airing it out over the next 11 weeks, but Gore will be working the ribs, loosening up the opposition for that decisive punch.
To running backs like Gore, the belief that you can put any back in the right scheme and have success is trash rap.
“Whenever [the 49ers] let me get on the field, I’m going to go hard and prove everybody wrong again,” Gore said to NBC Sports in June.
In other words, while we are tongue kissing QBs and receivers, don’t forget that this running back thing…well some guys just do it better than others.