As the 49ers and Patriots prepare to square-off on Sunday Night Football I thought I'd dig around through various team statistics to get an idea, albeit potentially vague, about the similarities and differences between these two teams. On the surface the first things that come to mind are:
New England is a fast-paced, high-flying offense lead by one of the best QBs in the NFL in Tom Brady.
San Francisco is a tough, physical team with a punishing defense that doesn't give up yards or points.
While those blanket statements are true, let's look just a little deeper into what each team has accomplished thus-far in 2012.
Indeed the Patriots lead the league in points per game at 36.3, as well as yards/game with 425.7. Conversely the 49ers allow just 14.2 points per game and 275.5 yards per game, good for first and second in the NFL, respectively.
New England is seventh in the NFL with 139.9 rushing yards per game whereas the 49ers are second with 161.5. Passing yards couldn't be further apart with the Pats averaging 285.8, good for fifth in the league, vs. the 49ers with just 198.5, earning them the 26th spot.
The Pats are converting 52.4% of their third-downs in 2012 while the 49ers are at just 36.1%. In games against the Saints and Rams, the 49ers were over 40% on third-down while only converting 20% against the Dolphins in an ugly game overall.
The 49ers have allowed 38 sacks in 2012 while the Patriots have only surrendered 20. Keeping Tom Brady clean is a guaranteed way to allow him to pick you apart. The 49ers defense has 32 sacks on the year compared to the Patriots 28, neither are stellar totals although the 49ers are tied for seventh in the NFL.
We all know about turnovers and the differential between give/take. The 49ers benefited greatly from a high turnover margin in 2011 only to see the takeaways vanish in 2012. They're currently sitting at +6 in give/take while the Patriots are experiencing an NFL-high +24 in the category.
It's worth noting that the last few games the Pats were even in turnover margin, but playing against Mark Sanchez and the Jets earned them FIVE turnovers three weeks ago. In fact, the Pats have earned SEVEN turnovers in their two games against the hapless Jets, including an overtime victory in week seven.
As you can see by their schedule, you can catch the Pats on a bad day. Along with the three point win in OT vs. the Jets, they've also had close games with Arizona, Baltimore, Seattle, Buffalo, and Miami (final scores within 7pts. or less). The games against the Cardinals, Jets, and Bills were all played in Foxboro, too.
The numbers seem to confirm that these are two very different teams in almost every category. That's what makes these types of contests so much fun to anticipate. I still think the key is to play fundamentally-sound football and get to Tom Brady without tons of extra rushers. You probably won't force him to throw interceptions, but you might get some incompletions and sacks, which help stall drives.
The 49ers also should be able to take advantage of New England's pass defense, currently near the bottom in the NFL giving up over 275 yards per game. A good game plan like they had against the Bears will be key. I'm not saying the Pats will play man coverage the entire game (which proved a mistake for Chicago) but that the coaches had a plan for what the opposition played.
While I know the team will approach this game like any other, not making the mistake that the Texans did by over-emphasizing it, I can't lie when I say that as a fan this is the biggest game of the 2012 season thus-far. This is one of those games that plenty of people will count the 49ers out. This is the type of game that I will be screaming very loudly whilst watching, especially when good things happen.
I hope the team takes the underdog mentality, the "Nobody thinks we have a shot!" attitude during their preparation this week. Study extra hard, show-up early, stay late, eat right, rest well, and be ready to prove it to the World. That's when they play their best.