The San Francisco 49ers secured an ugly, tough 25-19 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, overcoming 15 penalties and an early fumble to improve to 5-1 for the first time since 1998. The game almost got out of hand early on when the Lions took a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Matthew Stafford had connected on a 16-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Pettigrew and the 49ers began the subsequent drive at their 20-yard line following a touchback. To that point, the 49ers had gained five total yards and had ten yards in penalties and a fumble by Alex Smith. The Ford Field crowd was rocking and you could reasonably say the 49ers were in a situation where they needed to produce some points if they didn't want to be blown out by the end of the first half.
Enter Frank Gore.
Through the first three games of the season Frank Gore struggled immensely, but starting with the 49ers comeback against the Eagles, he has bounced back in a big way. The 49ers victory in Detroit had several high points, but you could reasonable argue that Gore's 47-yard run on this particular drive brought his team back from the brink.
The 49ers line up with two tight ends on the right side of the line. Tight end Vernon Davis (#85)is lined up on the offensive line and tight end Delanie Walker is lined up off and back of the line. I have circled Walker in red as he provides the critical block in this play. The 49ers have used two tight end sets as a base formation due to the athleticism and blocking ability of Davis and Walker.
In this shot, Walker has begun moving in motion to his left. At the snap, Walker was lined up immediately behind right tackle Anthony Davis, who is immediately to the left of Vernon Davis. Opposite Anthony Davis and right guard Adam Snyder is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The Lions have a lot of talent across their defensive line, but Suh is the most talented and the leader of that bunch.
After the snap, Anthony Davis released to the second level to engage middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. That would secure the second level opening for Gore. Before Gore could reach that point, somebody had to take care of the man named Suh. The arrow points to tight end Delanie Walker actually making the single block on Suh. At the snap, right guard Adam Snyder pulled to his left to chip the other defensive tackle Corey Williams.
Center Jonathan Goodwin moved into the second level as well, which opened up what appeared to be a hole for Suh to blast into the backfield. This was significant because in his haste to his that hole, Suh did not see Walker come in on his left side. Walker did not need to flatten Suh, but he was able to push Suh out of the way, creating the hole for Gore.
At this point Delanie Walker has engaged Suh at the line of scrimmage and Anthony Davis has engaged Tulloch at the second level. Safety Amari Spievey (#42) has a shot at Gore, but Gore went into an extra gear to burst through the hole, away from Spievey and into the second level. There have been some questions about whether Gore has "lost a step", but this particular moment shows he can reach back for that gear when necessary.
At the second level, Gore had two more guys to beat. As he approached safety Louis Delmas, rather than slow down and try to juke (which might have allowed Tulloch to catch back up with him), Gore simply took a slight turn to his right, reducing Delmas' angle of approach. 49ers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. is in front of him and his distraction kept Chris Houston from getting down to tackle Gore.
Gore was not quite fast enough to break free for the touchdown, as Houston tracked him down and got the tackle at the one yard line. Two plays later Gore would plunge in for the one-yard touchdown run and cut the Lions lead to three points.
The 49ers may very well have come back and win even without this big run. They got some things going later in the game, but this run felt like a significant momentum-changer in the game. It quieted down the raucous Ford Field crowd and settled down the 49ers offense.