When the 49ers host the Packers this Saturday night, they need to remember Frank Gore.
No. 21, of course, hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s been in the 49ers backfield the entire season, churning out yards and making plays.
In his eighth NFL season, Gore has rushed for 1,214 yards – his second-best total as a pro – and eight touchdowns, while also catching 28 passes for another 234 yards and a TD.
But since Colin Kaepernick took over as starting quarterback from Alex Smith in November, Gore has gone from being the focus of the offense to a complementary piece.
He had three 100-yard rushing games when Smith was the starting QB, but none over the final seven games with Kaepernick the starter.
Yet in the season-opening, 30-22 victory over the Packers in Green Bay in September, Gore pounded the Packers for 112 yards on just 16 carries – a 7-yard average – in leading a sustained ground attack that helped keep the potent Packers offense off the field.
As columnist Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group noted, for the 49ers to win their divisional-round playoff game against the Packers Saturday night at Candlestick Park, San Francisco needs to go back to its basics: running the football and playing a physical style on both offense and defense.
Though Kaepernick has brought a more wide-open, quick-strike style to the 49ers, beating the Packers may depend on whether San Francisco can play old-fashioned, run-oriented football.
“For one more week at least, the 49ers have to be bullies again,” wrote Kawakami.
The numbers indicate that the way Gore has been used since Kaepernick became the starter – and the team has adopted more read-option plays out of the Pistol offense that suits Kaepernick’s talents – is different. In the nine games started by Smith, says Kawakami, Gore averaged 5.4 yards a carry (140 carries, 753 yards). In the seven started by Kaepernick, Gore averaged 3.9 yards (118 carries, 461 yards).
The Packers, who know they’ll have to play better against the run this time against the 49ers, certainly aren’t losing focus on Gore. They know how good he is: a 5-foot-9, 217-pound slasher who seems to squeeze through impossible holes, is extremely durable and has six 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
“Frank Gore is an outstanding athlete. He makes plays for them,” Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews told reporters this week. “You’d like to think they’re going to get it going in that regard, especially with the lack of success (against the run) we’ve had in the past games.”
In their win over the Vikings last week, Green Bay gave up 167 rushing yards and 5.8 yards per attempt. In the regular season, the Packers ranked 17th in rushing defense, allowing an average of 118.5 yards per game and 4.5 per carry.
Gore has shown he’s been more effective as a runner in straight-ahead power-running formations rather than the read-option scheme. But, he’s also said he needs to evolve and learn to adapt and be more patient in that scheme.
Right offensive tackle Anthony Davis has no doubts Gore can pick up yards in this playoff game, no matter the play calls.
“We do our job, he does his and he’s as good as (heck) at his,” Davis told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.