Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Biggest Surprise of 2011: How 49ers Stack up against the NFL's Defending Champs

Heading in to September the NFC West was supposed to belong to St. Louis, who had an up-and-coming young offense led by second-year quarterback Sam Bradford and veteran running back Steven Jackson.

The Rams were one game away from a playoff berth after losing a Week 17 match-up against the Seattle Seahawks for the division title. Bradford (3,512 passing yards, 18 TD, 15 INT, 76.5 QB rating in 2010), the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, was supposed to head in to the off-season and improve his game greatly for 2011.

Then, the lockout happened.

What does he do this season? Throw just five TD passes, five interceptions, get sacked a league-high 31 times with a 1-7 record as a starter, all while battling an ankle injury. Utter disappointment in St. Louis ensues as the Rams find themselves at the very bottom of the West with a 2-8 record.

High hopes for Arizona this season as well, as All Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald finally got that quarterback he's been waiting for (since Kurt Warner's retirement at least) in multi-million dollar man Kevin Kolb. Another disappointment as he's put up a 1-7 record as starter and thrown 8 TDs and 8 INTs. He, too, has sustained an injury to his foot and missed some time (out of lineup since 10/30).

Seattle, who captured a playoff win last season as the first-ever team to win a playoff game with a losing record in the regular season (7-9), lost veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to the Tennessee Titans over the off-season and I really didn't expect much from Pete Carroll's Seahawks with an inconsistent offensive attack led by former Viking Tarvaris Jackson.
Seattle and Arizona find themselves in the middle of the pack at 4-6 and 3-7, respectively. That leaves us with one more team in the West, the San Francisco 49ers.

Much like Seattle, I didn't see much coming from the Niners in 2011 after they brought in former Stanford Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh's brother. The drafting of Colin Kaepernick in the second round of April's draft hinting towards a rebuilding process.

No one expected Alex Smith, who was labeled a "Draft bust" after five sub-par seasons as the 49ers' starting quarterback, to prove his worth in the league in 2011. But that's exactly what he has done through 10 games this season.

San Francisco's 9-1 record is the second-best in the entire NFL this season, behind only the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers (10-0). One may argue that they are in one of the weaker divisions so they have an "advantage," or "their schedule is easy." But those arguments are just excuses that San Fran's critics have been using.

Yes, the rest of San Francisco's division is only a combined 13-21, but only two of its 10 games have come against division opponents. And yes, San Francisco's opponents have put up a combined losing record of 47-53, but if you compare that to Green Bay's schedule (41-59) the Niners get the edge.

If that doesn't convince you that San Francisco isn't all that far from being the top team in the league, take a look at this:

GB: 1st in points (355), 4th in total yards (4,065), 3rd in passing yards (3,049), 1st in passing TDs (31), 21st in rushing yards (1,016), 15th in rushing TDs (8), 3rd in turnovers (10)

SF: 7th in points (256), 20th in total yards (3,225), 27th in passing yards (1,883), 21st in passing TDs (13), 6th in rushing yards (1,342), 8th in rushing TDs (9), 1st in turnovers (9)

It's obvious Green Bay has the edge in the passing games, with MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers tearing up opposing secondaries with career numbers. But the rest is much closer. San Francisco has one of the game's scariest backs, Frank Gore, who is a dual threat in both the passing and running game, and Alex Smith has thrown just four interceptions this season (least in the league).

It looks even better for San Francisco when it comes to the defense, led by LBs Patrick Willis and one of the league's top tacklers NaVorro Bowman.

GB: 15th in points allowed (212), 30th in total yards (3,918), 31st in passing yards (2,893), 24th in passing TDs (18), 12th in rushing yards (1,025), 7th in rushing TDs (6), 4th in turnovers (22)

SF: 1st in points allowed (145), 8th in total yards (3,231), 23rd in passing yards (2,492), 16th in passing TDs (14), 1st in rushing yards (739), 1st in rushing TDs (0), 1st in turnovers (26)

In all, San Francisco is by far the most dangerous defense in the entire league, not just when compared to the Packers.

Most will say the Packers are the best team in the league considering they haven't lost a game yet, but I would tell those people that the Pack may be by far the best offense in the league, but they are not the best overall team in the league.

That title will belong to the 49ers until proven otherwise. Putting up points is obviously the object of the game of football, and the Packers do that better than anyone, but stopping the opposition from getting in to the end zone is just as important. And the 49ers haven't allowed a single rusher to score in 10 games, and only 14 total touchdowns have been scored against San Francisco in 2011. So far this season, only two teams (3-7 Jaguars and 2-8 Rams) have failed to get in to the end zone at least 14 total times.

Quite a feat, I must say, and though the 49ers will face a huge obstacle tomorrow night against the 7-3 Baltimore Ravens, I think they will pass the test. Joe Flacco has been inconsistently producing, and San Fran has been playing tougher defense than Baltimore this season–shocker, I know. Not to mention future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis may not even be on the field for the Ravens this week.

Moral of the story (you heard it here first), the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers are the best OVERALL team in the league, not the 10-0 Green Bay Packers.

Photo credit
Harbaugh: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Bowman: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

1 comment:

  1. They lost to Baltimore...poor offensive line play and two VERY questionable calls that made a HUGE difference in points...poor officiating and a miserable four day time period to get ready for a game in which they traveled back three time zones to play. Give the Ravens credit they played well but was close and the interception call should have been challenged along with the TD call back..


Tell us what you think!