METAIRIE, La. – Lost in all the talk about who the 49ers will go with at quarterback is one small detail.
San Francisco (7-2-1) owns the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL.
While everyone knows about the growing quarterback controversy between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, few people are talking about Frank Gore.
“I don’t know why (people aren’t talking about Gore),” said defensive tackle Tom Johnson, whose Saints host the 49ers on Sunday. “He has been doing good. They’re running game has been phenomenal and opening up their passing game. We’re focused on the run right now as defensive linemen.”
Indeed, no team averages more than San Francisco’s 165.5 yards per game and Gore, at 5-foot-9, 217 pounds, is a big part of that. He’s eighth in the NFL with 831 yards this season and his 5.29 yard-per-carry average is second-best in the league for players with at least 120 carries.
Yet, he’s rarely put in the same category as Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster.
“He’s a lot more physical than you probably would think,” New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “He’s not a huge back. He’s a low-to-the-ground, very shifty guy. He has a burst. He’s a great back. He might be the most underrated back in the league. Every year he consistently puts up the numbers.”
Gore’s 32 100-yard rushing games is best in San Francisco history. In eight seasons, he has rushed for 8,456 yards, more than 1,110 yards more than the second-highest total in franchise history. His 48 rushing touchdowns are second in 49ers annals.
The Saints are familiar with him.
In the NFC divisional playoff loss in January, Gore rushed for 89 yards on 13 carries and caught seven passes for 35 more yards. A season earlier, Gore helped San Francisco nearly upset the Saints in the second game of the season, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown while posting a touchdown and 56 more yards receiving.
In fact, in his past five games against the Saints since 2006, he has 364 yards rushing.
“He has played well and he has played at a high level,” Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “He’s one of those rare running backs that can do a lot of different things. He’s still explosive. He still has the lateral movement. He still has the big play and over and over he’s constantly getting yards in the game.”
There’s one key to making sure Gore doesn’t run amok on the Saints but that’s easier said than done. Those in the Saints locker room say multiple players have to find their way to the running back, not allowing him the chance to run through or around one defender.
“It has got to be the entire defense putting a hat on the ball and getting his legs out from underneath him,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “I think that’s one thing. People don’t understand how strong his legs are. He moves piles. Guys tackle him up high and he’s just moving them back two or three yards.”
But you won’t hear Gore touting his exploits and you won’t see him on SportsCenter for a touchdown celebration.
That doesn’t fit Gore’s personality.
“He’s not one of those running backs that’s going to dance and do all that stuff and be electrifying,” Lofton said. “He’s going to bring his hard hat to work, put his head down and go to work, make plays, get up and he acts like he has done it before.”