Frank Gore’s highlights are a little more crowded this year.
When Gore breaks into the opposition’s secondary on one of his long runs, he usually has company as he weaves his way through those linebackers and defensive backs.
That’s because Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Adam Snyder or Anthony Davis is usually out there running with him.
“[We have] some very athletic offensive lineman,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said earlier this week. “Joe Staley in particular, but also Mike Iupati does a great job getting to the second level. … They’re all big, big men who are very athletic.”
That athleticism has enabled the 49ers to run the ball as effectively as any team in the NFL the past four games.
Although they rank 11th in yards per carry for the season, the Niners have averaged 5.8 yards per carry the last four games, racking up 754 yards on 129 rushes. That after averaging just 2.3 yards per rush the first three games this season. The Eagles lead the league with a 5.8-yard average for the season.
To put into perspective how well the Niners are running the football, no team has averaged more than 5.5 yards per carry for an entire season since 2002.
And this athletic running game was not something Harbaugh and his staff realized they had until after they began working with this group after the lockout.
“You have to see people in person,” Harbaugh said. “Understand what they do well, what they can do better and fit that into the game plan. That [athleticism] is something you do have to see in person.”
The man at the center of this rumbling crew storming down the field is Gore, who is once again proving he’s one of the best north-south runners in the game.
Several times this season, Harbaugh has spoken of Gore, who ranks fifth in the league in total yards and is on pace to gain more than 1,500 yards this season, having exceptional vision. Gore himself has said he knows where he’s going before the ball is snapped.
“It’s an instinct that sets them apart from everybody else who’s blessed with strength and speed and running ability,” Harbaugh said. “There’s an instinct and a vision that they possess that they’ve been blessed from mom, dad and God to have.
“And there’s that attribute that Frank has, there’s the ability to turn his feet over, and to stop, and to jump, and to cut, and to get his feet to go where his eyes are telling him to go. That is special. Then he has ability to get toward, and lower his pads to get through the narrowest of windows. He’s one of the all-time best, and we’re lucky to have him.”
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.