This weekend’s prime time game might be played in New England but it could be repeated in New Orleans come February.
The San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) leave the Bay Area for the Bay State to take on the New England Patriots (10-3) on Sunday night. The 49ers are coming off a 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins. Meanwhile, the Patriots made a strong case for being the best team in the NFL by simply crushing the Houston Texans 42-14 this last Monday night. New England is currently on a 7 game winning streak while the 49ers have failed to win more than 2 games in a row all season long.
While the Patriots defense has shown improvement, they haven’t seen the likes of a mobile quarterback like Colin Kaepernick this season. While he is certainly no Michael Vick or Robert Griffin III, Kaepernick has shown to be a Quarterback capable of throwing deep balls and even making a few running plays when need be. He’s certainly caught the eye of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
“He’s an explosive player, he can make some big plays,” Belichick said of Kaepernick. “The offensive system that they run with him in there has the element of the option, the pistol offense, that type of thing. It’s just another thing to prepare for.”
The numbers and the explosiveness have gone down a bit in the last couple of weeks with Colin under center (or in the pistol), but Kaepernick has shown he’s still got it last Sunday against Miami running for a 50 yard touchdown near the end of the game. On the road to the Super Bowl, Colin certainly is looking to impress Sunday night.
“It’ll be a great challenge for us,” Kaepernick said. “It’s a great opportunity to go out and show what we’re capable of.”
As for the the Patriots, Tom Brady certainly knows a bit about taking over a team during the regular season and leading them to the Super Bowl, something Kaepernick is looking to do in San Francisco. Brady is having a great season with a QB rating of 104.2, tied for the best in the league with Robert Griffin III. Brady is also top 5 in passing yards (3,833 yards) and passing touchdowns (29) while only throwing 4 interceptions in 13 games. In this last Monday’s game vs. the Texans Brady threw for 296 yards and 4 TDs which earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
The weapons around Brady are as effective as ever. While Rob Gronkowski is out, Wes Welker is still the number one go to guy in passing game getting 95 receptions this season for 1116 yards and 4 TDs. Also TE Aaron Hernandez will make up for Gronkowski’s absence and Brandon Lloyd (who is a former Niner) also aids in the passing game.
Even with all of this, Brady might be challenged this Sunday. The 49ers are the 2nd best defense overall defense being behind only the Steelers in least total yards allowed this season. That’s 2nd in both the run and the pass and while they haven’t played the elite kind of quarterback that is Tom Brady every week, they are giving up the fewest points in the league allowing 14.2 points per game.
The one weakness of Brady’s has always been the pass rush. Brady has just been sacked 20 times this season (5th fewest allowed as team in 2012) and while the 49ers are not the best pass rushing team being 10th in the league in sacks with 32, San Francisco still has the NFL sack leader on their team in Aldon Smith with 19.5 sacks. Smith is definitely looking forward to the primetime game in Foxborough.
“I think everybody gets up for it,” Smith said. “We’ve played under the lights in high school, ‘Friday Night Lights’ and I think that’s where everybody kind of got their real love for football. Just being back in that atmosphere, I think everyone still has that childhood in them, so we all get amped for it.”
The other key is shutting down New England’s improved running game. The Patriots were 20th in the league rushing the ball in 2011 and are currently 7th in the the NFL this season in running the football averaging 139.9 rushing yards per game. A large reason for the improvement is Stevan Ridley who has run for 1,083 rushing yards in 2012 along with 10 rushing TDs.
The return of a legitimate ground game to New England makes Tom Brady even more dangerous knowing he can lean on play action. The only way to combat this is perhaps for the 49ers to take away the ground game early and take their chances with a pass happy Brady blitzing him when they can.
The 49ers running game, meanwhile, is just known for running it however they can. They will bring in Tight Ends, Defensive Tackles, run the pistol, end arounds, and whatever else they can think of to run the ball. San Francisco is the 2nd best rushing team in the league averaging 161.5 yards per game on the ground.
Frank Gore with 1035 rushing yards has certainly done his job but the uncertain in the backfield is rookie RB LaMichael James. He played his first NFL game last Sunday with 8 carries for 30 yards and he will most likely be the one to help lighten the load of Frank Gore with Kendall Hunter out for the year with an injury. Colin Kaepernick will do his part with some designed run schemes for him but James as the 2nd back is more crucial to the ground game than Colin.
What will happen with the nation watching Sunday night? Expect Brady and the passing game to give the 49ers defense their toughest challenge of the season while Kaepernick and that offense tries to go deep once more. Whatever the outcome may be, seeing how the 49ers play in New England will give the entire country a fair idea of just how much of a Super Bowl contender San Francisco really is.
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Written by Daniel Trucios