by Josh Kipnis
The San Francisco 49ers are the best all-around team in the NFL. Yes, the Packers are undefeated. Yes, Aaron Rodgers could be the best passer we have ever seen. But teams without the Greek God of Quarterbacks have to have a balanced attack and consistency in all aspects of the game. If we are determining a team with the best offense/defense combination, I have to pick the Niners.
Jim Harbaugh, making his rookie debut as an NFL coach, has essentially clinched the NFC West with an 8-1 record (2nd place sits at 3-6) and the third easiest schedule remaining in the league. This will be the 49ers’ first playoff appearance since 2002, also marking the last time the team finished with a winning record.
Passing: San Francisco falls far below par when it comes to passing yardage. While other teams might mock the 4th lowest passing total in the NFL (179.6 yds/game), this stat proves to be the teams’ greatest strength. Sure, they might not pass for 300+ yards, but Harbaugh chooses to focus on a much more important facet of the game: turnovers. While quarterback Alex Smith’s longest touchdown is 44 yards this season (shortest among active starters), he has only thrown three interceptions all year long (tied with Rodgers for least in NFL). A key part of this efficiency is Smith’s use of his tight ends. Of the 11 TDs he has thrown, 7 of those have been to a TE. Hitting big, easy targets with reliable hands is exactly the strategy Smith needed to reinvigorate his young career.
Last Week: Frank Gore has been sensational. He set a franchise record this season by stringing together five consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing. However, this past Sunday, the 49ers’ offense had to prove how successful they could be without the seventh best rusher in the NFL. It was the first time this season that San Francisco was in a “pass-first” scenario. And wouldn’t you know it, the offense flourished. Smith threw for 242 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT beating the Giants 27-20.
Big Plays: While offensively they do not rely on big plays, the Niners’ defense does. San Francisco has the second-most recovered fumbles and eighth-most interceptions. Cornerback Carlos Rogers has excelled this year, leading the league with 5 INTs. These game-changing turnovers are a major reason why San Francisco has given up the fewest total points in the entire NFL. If you don’t have the ball, it makes it a lot more difficult to put points on the board.
Linebackers: The 49ers have the best linebacking corps in all of football. NaVorro Bowman is second in the league with 92 tackles and teammate Patrick Willis is just a few spots below him, ranking 9th in the NFL. The third member of the unit is Aldon Smith, a rookie out of Missouri. He has accumulated 6.5 sacks thus far, eleventh most in the NFL. Need more stats to scare you about how good these three are? The 49ers have given up the fewest rushing yards of all 32 teams. But here’s the best part; San Francisco has not allowed a single rushing touchdown all year. That’s right, not one ball carrier.
Let the Gold Rush begin.