A closer look at Gore, 49ers offense

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers gained more than 10 yards on a dozen plays against the Lions in Week 3. The chart lists those 12 plays from longest to shortest.

In breaking out plays this way, we notice that 11 of the 12 came on first down. We notice that Frank Gore was the only running back on the field for the three longest-gaining plays. We notice that three of the 12 plays, including two of the three longest runs, came from offset-I formations. This interests me because the 49ers used only four offset-I formations all game. They amassed 56 yards on these plays, never gaining fewer than 6.

Where am I heading with this? Pull up a chair.

Inconsistent terminology stands as perhaps the No. 1 barrier between football enthusiasts and a better understanding of how the game is played. It's one of the more frustrating things I've encountered in trying to learn and explain what's happening on the field.

One thing I've tried to do is focus on what can be verified: which players were on the field in certain situations and how those players fared as a group. Specifically, I look at five-man offensive personnel groupings. How do the 49ers fare when they use one running back, three wide receivers and a tight end? What if DeShaun Foster is the running back instead of Fr

ank Gore? What if it's first or second down? And so on.

We start with the premise that teams are going to use five offensive linemen and a quarterback on every play. It's those other five players -- running backs, wide receivers and tight ends -- who are continually shuffling and making the game interesting.

In that context, let's take a fuller look at how the 49ers used their offensive personnel against the Lions in Week 3. I charted the first 60 offensive plays. This excluded the final clock-killing drive featuring three kneel-down plays.

The results are available in an Excel file with two sheets:

  • The first sheet shows the following information by personnel group: total plays, percentage of total plays, running plays (minus quarterback scrambles), yards per carry, rushing first downs, number of pass attempts, yards per pass attempt, first downs passing, total touchdowns, interceptions and sacks.

  • The second sheet allows you to sort every play by down, distance, yard line, personnel, play type, ball carrier, yards gained and other criteria.

You'll notice right away that the 49ers dominated with Gore and two tight ends. They were also very effective running the ball from an offset-I formation with one tight end.

The 49ers ran six plays with four wide receivers on the field. These plays produced two quarterback scrambles, one sack, an incomplete pass, a 5-yard run on third-and-10 and a 6-yard run on first-and-10. The sack was on first down. So was one of the quarterback scrambles. Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan scrambled on only three of the 54 plays with fewer than four receivers on the field. He wasn't sacked on any of the 22 pass plays.

Knowing this makes me want to see what the 49ers do from four-receiver personnel groupings in the coming weeks. I offer this example as a window into the way we can see the game if we're willing to put in a little work.