Five Reasons Why The 49ers Are Super Bowl-Bound: A Fan’s Perspective
Looking ahead to the 2011 NFL playoffs, many experts don’t envision the San Francisco 49ers making it past the offensive juggernauts from New Orleans and Green Bay . Well, those “experts” are simply wrong. The 49ers, who possess the second best record in the NFC at 13-3, simply have the best all-around team in the league and are poised to steal the championship crown from the Packers. Here are the reasons why the Niners will be in the Super Bowl this year:
San Francisco not only gives up around 14 points per game (fewest in the NFC), they allow the least amount of yards per game (308) and force 38 turnovers, best in the NFC. The Niner defense stuffs the rushing attack, allowing 75 yards per game on average and have given up the least amount of rushing touchdowns in a 16-game season in NFL history.
Although linebacker Patrick Willis is the obvious heart and soul of the defense, rookie linebacker Aldon Smith (14 sacks), linebacker Navorro Bowman (143 tackles), and defensive backs Dashon Goldson and Carlos Rogers (both with 6 interceptions each) have paced a defense that has gained tremendous respect around the league.
ALEX SMITH LEADS THE OFFENSE
The 49ers are consistently winning behind the leadership and poise of Alex Smith. Thanks to Jim Harbaugh, Smith has become more than a facilitator. He is having his best all-around season by playing high-percentage football: threading passes to open receivers, scrambling to create more time and avoid costly sacks, gaining yardage by running the ball when receivers are covered, and throwing the ball away when faced with no options. If Alex has time to find his receivers, can keep his pace of a 60% completion rate and a league-leading low of five interceptions, the Niners are assured to stay in any game. Obviously, if the 49ers had an Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, San Francisco fans wouldn’t be as hesitant about the lack of offensive firepower . But we must remember that Baltimore (2000), Tampa Bay (2002), and Pittsburgh (2005) won Super Bowls with quarterbacks throwing for lesser yards and more interceptions than Smith during the regular season.
Michael Crabtree is having his finest season in a Niner uniform and Vernon Davis can create mismatches and additional yards after the catch with his athleticism. The loss of Josh Morgan (broken leg) and Delanie Walker (broken jaw) combined with the ailing Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams will greatly affect the offensive attack, so there is no doubt Head Coach Jim Harbaugh will have to be more creative in his game plan.
The offensive line not only has given Smith time to find receivers, but also has opened holes for Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, and Anthony Dixon. Gore has quietly gone over 1,200 yards this season while Hunter can effectively step in and spell Gore for stretches in the game. The running attack has been integral to opening up the passing attack of the 49ers offense.
GOLDEN FEET OF THE NINERS
Brad Seely’s masterful job as the special teams’ coach has the 49ers excelling in the most underrated of the three phases of a football game. Acquiring him from Cleveland was a brilliant move for the 49ers organization and has been the key component of the 49ers success this season.
The first free agent acquisition of the 49ers this past off-season has become their most important: placekicker David Akers. General Manager Trent Baalke must have a crystal ball in front of him to foresee how important the kicker position would be for the Niner’s futile offense. Akers set the league record for most field goals in a season and holds the San Francisco franchise record for most points in a season, leading the NFL with 166 points (nearly half of the total points of the 49ers).
Punter Andy Lee leads the NFL with 44 net yards per punt, consistently pinning the opponent’s offense deep on their side of the field. Field position differential is an underrated statistic that San Francisco has taken advantage of during the season. On average, opponents have started their drives on the 25-yard-line, best in the NFL. In other words, opponents are forced to drive 75 yards on average against the vaunted defense of the Niners.
When Jed York pulled the plug on the Mike Singletary experiment and obtained a highly-regarded coach in Jim Harbaugh, the culture of the entire 49ers organization dramatically shifted from one that hoped to win to one that expects to win. The 49ers 20 point comeback win in Philadelphia surprised fans who had witnessed the last nine years of futility. Harbaugh has proven to be a great leader, motivator, and is better at managing a game than Singletary. Although the comparisons of Harbaugh with Bill Walsh are premature, we must remember that Walsh took three years to change the culture of the team and establish a winning record. Harbaugh is not “the Genius”, but Harbaugh has found success in less time with fewer pieces of the puzzle.
NEW ORLEANS AND GREEN BAY ARE NOT IMMORTAL
On paper, the games between the New Orleans Saints and the Packers will be a prolific offense vs. a stingy defense. Another way to look at these matchups will be how the 49ers offense can take advantage of their poor defenses. Both teams hold their position at the middle or below in most defensive statistical categories. Green Bay gives up 300 passing yards per game (worst in the NFL) while New Orleans has allowed over 4,000 passing yards this season (30th in the NFL).
New Orleans has struggled on the road, losing to Green Bay, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay. Their two other divisional road games (Carolina and Atlanta) have come down to the slim margin of a field goal. In other words, when the Saints play away from the Mercedes Benz Dome, they are mortal and beatable. Another interesting caveat is that the 49ers most decisive wins came against teams that have defeated the Saints this season. San Francisco steamrolled Tampa Bay 48-3 and swept St. Louis this season. At the ‘Stick, the 49ers will have the definite advantage on January 14th against Drew Brees and the Saints. Prediction: 49ers win 26-21 on a rainy Saturday afternoon in San Francisco featuring three turnovers (2 fumbles and 1 INT) and 4 David Akers field goals.
When the 49ers travel to Lambeau Field in Green Bay for the NFC Championship Game, San Francisco will hope for a cold, snowy day. In games on the “frozen tundra”, the advantage goes to the team with a superior ground attack and staunch defense. The Niners are superior to the Packers in both areas. Also, it’s worthy to note that the Packers seem to struggle against teams that wear red (e.g. Kansas City). Prediction: 49ers win 16-14 on three David Akers field goals and a defensive stand in the 4th quarter.
As the 49ers organization celebrates its 30th anniversary of the celebrated 1981 team, a team that defined a new era of 49er football and went on as an underdog to defeat the Cowboys and the Bengals to win their first Super Bowl title, the question remains: could history repeat itself in 2011? We’ll see…
I am a Bay Area sports fan with a 30 year passion for San Francisco 49er football.