LaMichael James Frank Gore 49ers

Are we starting to see signs of Frank Gore wearing down? Nothing about Gore’s play has suggested he’s lost a step–according to observational evidence, that is. However, as Brian Nemhauser of Hawk Blogger points out, Gore’s stats mirror those from 2011, a season in which Gore failed to eclipse 100 yards rushing in the final eight weeks of the regular season. As it stands now, Gore hasn’t reached 100 yards since Week 7 against the Seahawks. But that’s not the only similarity.  In recent weeks, Gore has seen steady declines in both Yards Per Carry (YPC) and Yards Per Carry After Contact (YPCAC). These trends also parallel those of 2011.

YARDS PER CARRY

YPC

In both seasons, Gore’s YPC decline steeply after October. Though the decline isn’t as steep this season, Gore hasn’t had the December rebound he enjoyed last year. In total, Gore’s YPC has dipped from 6.1 to 3.6 in just a month and a half. Not exactly an encouraging sign.

YARDS PER CARRY AFTER CONTACT

YPAC

Again, the parallels are obvious. In November of this year, Gore was averaging 3.08 yards per carry after contact. In December, that number is down to just 1.91. That’s a sharp decline. Much sharper than that of 2011.

The signs are pretty clear that Gore’s production has dipped considerably. But where Nemhauser attributes this to signs of wear, I’m not so confident. There are many variables to consider when discussing running back productivity, the most important of which would be opponent value. To determine opponent value, I’ve compiled weighted run defense Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), which “breaks down every single NFL play and compares a team’s performance to a league baseline based on situation in order to determine value over average.” To also attempt to proscribe an effect based on that value, I’ve charted DVOA along with YPC and YPCAC to see if there are any correlations. As it turns out, there are.

2011

2011

2012

2012

The more in the negative the blue line is, the better the defense. If the red and green lines follow the blue, then we can surmise that the decline in production correlates with opponent value. In other words, if Gore is struggling, it is because he is facing good defenses.

This is the conclusion we can definitively draw about his most recent lack of production. In 2011, Gore did wear down–though much of that was probably the effect of injury. This season, however, Gore’s decline can be directly attributed to facing three of best run defenses (Arizona, Miami, and New England) in three consecutive weeks. But, whatever the reason, the recent slump in the run game since losing Kendall Hunter is still cause for concern. If the 49ers are going to be successful, they’ll need return to pre-November productivity.