Last season, the San Francisco 49ers could attribute two very key things to most of their 13 wins: their awesome turnover ratio/ability to protect the ball on offense and their success in the battle for field position. Alex Smith only threw five interceptions a season ago, something that's rarely done by an NFL quarterback. He was safe, efficient and most of all, effective. Being careful with the football was his strong suit.
On Sunday, he helped the 49ers get things off on the right foot against the Green Bay Packers by slinging two touchdowns to go with his 211 yards, with an efficient 20-for-26 mark on his completions. On defense, NaVorro Bowman played his part by picking off Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers at an opportune time.
Bowman dropped back into zone coverage and leapt in the air to snag the pick on a first down. He actually looked to cover the running back who was running a quick out route, but watched Rodgers and quickly dropped back to get in front of the pass that was planned to sail over his head. It was an excellent, heads up play that you'd expect from one of the top inside linebackers in the league.
So the 49ers are +1 on the season when it comes to turnover ratio. That's a check. How did they do when it came to winning the field position battle?
Not as well as you might think. In fact, it could explain why the 49ers' defense got so tired and started to give up bigger plays as the game went on. If you watch the gameplan, there wasn't a whole lot different from the start of the game and the end of the game. This wasn't a Mike Nolan-esque prevent defense with 10 minutes to go, it was a defense that had a lot of work to do preventing a Packers offense that was winning the field position battle.
Below are the starting points for all of the drives:
49ers: 20, 20, 8, 20, 38, 16, 4, 10, GB 23, 26
Packers: 29 (penalty), 20, 20, 20, 21, 23, 24, 16
As you can see, the Packers did pretty well with some of their punts, but that's also a double-edged sword. It means the 49ers held way nearer midfield and the Packers punted very well, but that's sort of San Francisco's modus operandi. Andy Lee is usually the safety net that puts the other team back inside their own 20-yard line. That didn't happen much on Sunday.
Part of that is because the 49ers punted a lot less than normal. That's one good sign and another thing to take away from this game: touchbacks suck, but they're what happen when the NFL has a terrible rule change to the kickoff start point and you happen to score 30 points.
Still, it's not like the 49ers to give up that kind of yardage, and it's probably fair to see a large part of that is their lack of success on the field position level. On the flipside to that, the offense was given poor field position and managed to put up 30 points, so there's a good side to this particular stat. But the 49ers are a team blessed with excellent special teams, and if they hope to win 13 games again, they'll need to work on winning that field position battle more often than naught going forward.