This is the point last year that the 49ers and Frank Gore started to get in trouble. Gore had had four straight games of 100-plus rushing yards heading into a Week 8 game against the Redskins. He went over 100 yards in that contest -- 107, to be exact -- but he also came out of the game with an ankle injury.
He hardly played the following week against the Giants, and he wasn't the same the rest of the season. Gore never reached the 100-yard plateau again.
Gore, 29, was injured in Thursday's win over Seattle when he was blasted in the back and came away with bruised ribs. The question the 49ers will have to ask themselves is how they proceed with the their featured runner from this point forth.
The good news is that Gore's been used considerably less through seven games this year than he had through this point a year ago when the 49ers passing attack was in its infancy and the team leaned heavily on its running game. Gore had 146 carries for 669 yards (4.6-yard average) through Week 7. This year, the numbers are 103 carries for 601 yards (5.8 yard average), a 43-carry difference.
That's partly because the 49ers are throwing more (slightly more) than they were a year ago, and it's partly because Kendall Hunter is getting in the game more often. He had 40 carries for 192 yards (4.8-yard average) at this time last year. He's got 50 for 258 (5.2 average) right now. Gore's workload is significant, but it's not what it used to be. He's tied for 13th in number of carries this year.
Still, the 49ers could ease his load even more if they choose. Hunter was a quick learner as a rookie last year, but he's even more reliable in Year 2. Veteran Brandon Jacobs also was in uniform for the first time on Thursday, although he was the only 49er who didn't play in the game.
With 659 rushing yards, Houston's Arian Foster leads the NFL in rushing. Gore is fifth. But he's second among running backs with an average run of 5.8 yards, which is impressive for someone supposedly nearing the end of his career. Only Buffalo speedster C.J. Spiller (7.3 yards) has a better average.
Of course, the arrival of the 49ers' offensive line plays a large role. Hunter, after all, ranks fifth in yards-per-carry, gaining 5.2 yards a pop.
As a team, the 49ers rank second behind the Redskins in rushing offense with one game to play tonight. They rank 29th in passing offense and ninth in total offense. They rank first in total defense and first in pass defense.
-- Matt Barrows