SANTA CLARA — Frank Gore 2.0 is the 49ers' new operating system, as in 2.0 yards per carry for a malfunctioning rushing attack.
The 49ers' all-time leading rusher is off to his least-productive start in a season since 2005, when he was a rookie backup.
Teammates insist that Gore's 60 yards on 30 carries are reflective of their own failures, not any sign Gore has hit the stereotypical ceiling for 30-year-old running backs.
They call him, without hesitation, one of the NFL's best running backs. Linemen talk with regret about not opening creases for him. A crease, that's all they say Gore still needs.
"It's tough on Frank, because that's our guy, that's our workhorse," fullback Bruce Miller said. "He puts the team on his back and he carries us most of the time."
That's no secret, and why the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks concentrated on stopping the 49ers' running attack in the first two games, typically stacking the line of scrimmage with eight defenders. To counter that strategy, the 49ers have tried to pass the ball. It worked against the Packers, not against the Seahawks.
That's caused Gore to be utilized far more as a blocking back on pass protection.
Gore excels in that blocking role, so much so that he hasn't allowed a quarterback pressure in 32 pass-protection snaps this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com In that case, Gore may as well been classified as a fullback the first two games.
"I'm sure Frank Gore wants to get the ball and run, but at this point, he's really about winning," center Jonathan Goodwin said.
Gore disguised any dismay, stating: "I'm a team guy. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win. If it's passing, I'm happy (to pass protect)." Gore still burns to keep his name in the conversation of top NFL backs, and the 49ers haven't indicated any desire to quickly phase him out in favor of a younger rusher, such as Kendall Hunter, whose only carry last Sunday went for minus-7 yards
"We definitely want to get Frank Gore going," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. " ... Frank Gore's going to be a big part of what we do this year. Frank churning out those yards for us is very important to our success." Gore hasn't had a carry longer than 8 yards, getting 44 yards on 21 carries in the opener and 16 yards on nine attempts in Seattle. Two seasons ago, Gore also started with subpar numbers. He didn't rush for more than 60 yards in each of the first three games under coach Jim Harbaugh, averaging 2.7, 2.4 and 2.5 yards per game.
"We have to get better in the running game. We have to get it done," Gore said.
The 49ers rank a respectable 17th in rushing mainly thanks to Colin Kaepernick's 109 yards, most of which have come on scrambles rather than read-option or designed bootlegs.
The Colts, meanwhile, come into Candlestick with a new running back in Trent Richardson, last year's No. 3 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns who traded him Wednesday.
If the Colts instead rely on Andrew Luck's arm, they'll have to contend with a 49ers pass rush that should include Aldon Smith. On Friday, Smith was arrested for suspicion of drunken driving and marijuana possession, and coach Jim Harbaugh said later in the day Smith would play Sunday, barring any forthcoming discipline from the league.
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