Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Dec 2009

ESPN: Frank Gore's Tough Running

As this MNF feature points out, Frank Gore's high yards per carry average this year is pretty remarkable given the poor quality of San Francisco's run blocking. This column helps introduce our new terminology for some of the offensive line stats. What was called "10+ Yards" will now be called "Open Field Yards," and the yards from 5-10 are going to be called "Second Level Yards." Look for those changes on the OL and DL stats sheets this Tuesday.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 13 Dec 2009

4 comments, Last at 16 Dec 2009, 5:50pm by Sifter


by navin :: Mon, 12/14/2009 - 11:18am

Nice, concise piece summing up the different rushing statistics. Most Niners fans know that the OL is really bad; the team knows it too now that they've moved almost exclusively to a spread formation.

One thought: SF actually seems to run better out of shotgun then under center. It would be neat to see those numbers split out.

by anon (not verified) :: Mon, 12/14/2009 - 5:22pm

"With Smith under center, Gore has 51 rushes for 235 yards (4.6 average)

With Smith in the shotgun, Gore has 25 rushes for 135 yards (5.4 average)"


That's obviously an incredibly small sample made even smaller by not including the Seattle game, but it does lend some support to the idea that the Niners might be better running out of the gun, as well, or at the very least aren't worse at it.

Of course, a lot of that might be teams getting caught off guard by Jimmy Raye realizing you can call runs out of the shotgun at all.

by Samson151 (not verified) :: Wed, 12/16/2009 - 10:38am

Problem is, the team's effectiveness running from the gun may be in part due to the fact they don't use the formation a majority of the time. You actually lose some rush options when your QB is away from the line. And if you ran from the gun a lot, the defenses would quickly move to account for it.

by Sifter :: Wed, 12/16/2009 - 5:50pm

Yeah exactly. If Gore ran from the Shotgun all the time, then I think his numbers would regress to the mean - to use stat-rat jargon. While I didn't think they really solved it, I was glad that Gruden and Jaws mentioned the run/pass, shotgun vs I-formation debate on MNF. To me the 49ers are a very interesting case study. They have a decent defense, so the traditionalist says you need to take the air out of the ball and pound the running game on offense. That was a good plan when Shaun Hill was QB and it worked pretty well win-wise, but then Alex Smith comes in who is far more comfortable in shotgun. So which works better?

Lets check the stats (and I'm leaving out Special Teams as I can't see how changing a QB or offensive philosophy affects them).

The 49ers opened 3-1 and after week 4 were sitting on 3.6 DVOA (Off DVOA was -13.0 and Def DVOA was -16.6, according to the Wk 4 DVOA article)
Currently, the 49ers are 6-7 with a 4.8 DVOA (Off DVOA -7.0 and Def DVOA of -11.8)

Of course, the current DVOA includes the first 4 weeks, but it shows the trend I thought it would. Offense is playing a bit better under Alex Smith, but it doesn't help the defense when you throw that much. So it's really a matter of weighing up the pros and cons to see which philosophy works better for the TEAM, not just the offense. But it looks like the shotgun/Alex Smith stuff is doing more good than harm, so they might as well continue down the Alex Smith development path, as long as Frank Gore can handle having less carries.