It is decorative gourd season, and Frank Gore is getting in on the action. While you’re arranging gourds in a horn-shaped baskets, Gore is haphazardly scattering defenses like a fall that just blew through Golden Gate Park. While you’re carving pumpkins in hopes of spooking neighborhood kids, Frank Gore is carving defenses, striking fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators everywhere. While you’re enjoying decorative gourd season, Frank Gore is enjoying his best season as a pro.
This likely comes as at least a mild surprise for most. After all, the signing of Brandon Jacobs and the drafting of LaMichael James suggested that Gore’s shelf life was expiring. This fact combined with the stigma of a 29-year old back in a younger man’s game only led to doubts–doubts that have been all but silenced after these last six games.
No matter how you want to look at it, this season is shaping up to be Gore’s best. His 5.8 yards-per-carry is his best since 2006. He’s on pace for nearly 1,400 yards, again his most since since 2006. He’s doing this while averaging only 14 carries per game, a career low if we don’t include his rookie season, in which he split carries with then-49er Kevan Barlow.
But counting stats aside, Gore season belies his age, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) and Football Outsiders (FO).
Pro Football Focus
PFF’s stats only go back to 2008, so we can’t compare this season to Gore’s stellar 2006 campaign. However, what we can clearly see is Gore’s positive impact on the game. His overall, pass, and run grades given by the PFF team are largely subject, as they are based on a point system for positive or negative interventions in a game. PFF believes, as you can see, that Gore has never been this good — since 2008 at least. For more measurable means of determining Gore’s season, we can look at yards-after-contact (Yco) and broken/missed tackles (MT), both of which are trending toward career highs: He’s on pace for well over 700 Yco and 34 MT.
Of all the FO stats, I’ve chosen to focus on:
- Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA): This represents value, per play, over an average running back in the same situations,
- Effective Yards (EYds): This is DVOA translated into yardage. The more EYds than counted yards played better than counted stats would lead us to believe.
- Success Rate (Suc Rate): This measures player’s consistency.
FO’s stats give us a better picture of Gore’s career up to this point, and clearly shows that 2012 is shaping up to be something special. If you take note of anything from this chart, make it the rankings (Rk), which will show you how Gore compared to other runners in the league at the time. This season, FO believes that Gore is the third best running back, which is confirmed by PFF’s rankings as well.
Just how unusual it is for a 29-year old running back to be having a career year deserves some attention. That is, Gore’s season is somewhat unprecedented. If we compare it to those of Emmitt Smith — the picture of consistency — and those of Shaun Alexander — the picture of inconsistency — Gore’s season stands in sharp contrast.
Both Smith and Gore experience a similar decline at age 27, followed by an equally similar boost at 28. Where Smith’s play stays consistently average, Gore’s clearly does not. Alexander presents us with the quintessential image of the steep cliff which befalls many a 28-year-old back. Ultimately, yards per carry is imperfect, given that it relies heavily on the offensive line’s ability, the play calling, etc. So, in an attempt to gain a more accurate perspective, we’ll compare the players’ DVOA by season.
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average
Again, we see a similar trend between Gore and Smith. And, again, we see Gore bucking that trend. Alexander, on the other hand, still falls of that cliff.
The question is whether or not Gore can continue his success. So, to be fair, it should be noted that a player’s age is an arbitrary marker. The real marker for decline is carries, according to a study by Haverford University’s Chase Kennedy. Kennedy found that upon reaching 1750 carries, “production shows its largest expected decline,” but that the “trend does not continue when running back’s reach 2000 carries.” Gore is presently at 1756 carries on his career. And so, his decline might be happening as you read this. But, I doubt it.
As Ruthless Sports Guy pointed out, Greg Roman is keeping defenses off balance with his formation cluster-stuffs — if I can call them that. I would bet that Roman’s habit of throwing out of jumbo sets, running out the shotgun, and the like have equated to more running room for Gore. As such, Gore’s resurgent 2012 may just be the result of clever play calling. Still, that play calling can only as successful as the players running them. As long as Gore’s running them, I’d bet on success.