San Francisco 49ers midseason grades: Frank Gore leads talented group toward improvement

Thearon W. Henderson

The San Francisco 49ers have earned some much needed rest during their Week 9 bye, and it's a perfect time to reflect on how well this offense has performed through eight games via midseason grades.

The San Francisco 49ers have managed to make it to their bye week with a solid hold on first place in the NFC West and some real momentum following a 24-3 road win against the Arizona Cardinals. With a 6-2 record, the team that was a muffed return away from the Super Bowl a season ago looks primed to compete deep into the postseason once again.

With that said, there is still room for improvement, and it starts with offense. It was encouraging to see Alex Smith's stellar performance against a hobbled Cardinals' defense, but consistency is going to be a major issue for this group moving forward.

Here are the midseason grades for the Niners' offense, broken down by position:

Quarterback play:

This grade would have been slightly lower had it not been for a terrific performance by Alex Smith on the road in Arizona. In the victory vs the Cardinals, he showed poise and outstanding decision-making en route to a record-setting performance where he completed 18-of-19 passes and threw three touchdowns.

But in his previous two games, he threw four interceptions and one touchdown and had the 49ers wondering if "Bad Alex" was here to stay. He proved on Monday Night Football that it was just another temporary setback like he's been through before.

Colin Kaepernick has looked more than capable in his limited duty, and has performed well in the read-option role.

Grade: B

Running backs:

Frank Gore is still the heart and soul of this 49ers team, and he continues to prove that he's not anywhere near slowing down. He's the primary reason San Francisco has the best rushing attack in the NFL through Week 8 with a team average of 168.6 yards per game.

Midseason Grade: A+

Wide receivers:

Randy Moss has not been a major part of the wide receivers' success in 2012, but it was hard to imagine that he would be as the season began. What has been encouraging, though, has been the stellar play of fourth-year man Michael Crabtree, who has shed his case of drop-itis from 2011 to become the team's top wideout.

If he can build on his first-half success, he could start to become the No. 1 threat he was drafted in the first round to be. With 39 catches for 440 yards and three touchdowns on the year, he's on his way to a career year. Mario Manningnam and Kyle Williams have helped to open things up for the Crab in the middle of the field, where he has thrived.

The vertical passing game could still use some work, however, and at 200.4 yards per game, they're not a threat to beat teams deep. With that said, they haven't had to due to the efficient running game.

Midseason Grade: B-

Tight ends:

Vernon Davis can do anything he wants to on a football field due to his unique combination of size and speed. The funny thing is, however, that San Francisco hasn't needed him to be an elite pass-catcher because of the wealth of talent on that side of the ball. Still, he has come through when called upon, and catches everything in his vicinity, totaling 25 grabs for 374 yards and four touchdowns. Aside from that, he's also willing to go in and do the dirty work.

Delanie Walker has proven to be one of the best backup tight ends in the league in terms of production.

Midseason Grade: B+

Offensive line:

The running game wouldn't be anywhere near what it has been if it weren't for the terrific play of the offensive line. It seems as if whoever lines up in the backfield will have success. Case in point, Kendall Hunter has averaged 5.0 yards per carry, amassing 301 yards on 60 carries.

Smith has stayed upright, and Kaepernick has had some running success of his own. None of that would be possible without the O-line being in synch. Alex Boone has shifted positions due to injuries and has been a big part of the line's success.

Midseason Grade: A-

Coaching:

Second year offensive coordinator Greg Roman has utilized his players effectively in the first half of the season. Notably, he has put Crabtree in a position to succeed by letting him work in the middle of the field as a possession threat rather than force-feed him the ball down the sidelines.

He's given Smith something that the former Utah Ute has never had in his professional career -- continuity. That's made all the difference, and he can finally grow as a passer rather than having to start from scratch year in and year out.

There is something left to be desired here when it comes to the Niners' stats, but as they've said many times before, they're not a stats team.

They only care about wins. In 2012, the offense has been a major contributor in that department.

Overall Grade: B

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