Sunday Night Football Preview Part One: 49ers Offense vs. Patriots Defense

Week 15 of the 2012 NFL season is full of exciting matchups. Playoff positions are on the line and teams are fighting for first-round playoff byes. The most intriguing of these exciting matchups comes on Sunday Night Football when the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers take on the AFC East-leading New England Patriots at Foxboro stadium. This game could be a potential Super Bowl preview, but for now, we’ll just preview this game. Part one will focus on the 49ers offense vs. the Patriots defense.

The Patriots are the 12th ranked scoring defense in the NFL, allowing 21.1 points per game. They’re coming off one of their best performances of the year when they tamed the high-octane Houston Texans offense last week. The Patriots defense is vastly improved over years prior, with five of their last six first round picks being defensive players. In addition to the rebuilding through the draft, New England acquired troubled yet talented defensive back Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Talib adds a shutdown corner into the fold, fortifying a very opportunistic defense. They’ve forced 27 fumbles; eight more than the next team. They also have 15 interceptions, 28 sacks, and 5 touchdowns. New England does give up a lot of yards, but have done well at limiting the damage. With a 49ers team capable of big plays and putting the ball in the end zone, the Patriots will have to continue their trend of keeping teams out of the end zone in order to win.

They will try to keep the 49ers offense in check. The weather is likely to be in the 20’s, and the 49ers are a team built for cold-weather football. The 49ers have run-first mentality, averaging 161.5 yards per game. That 2nd-ranked rushing attack will go against a Patriots run defense that allows only 100.8 yards per game. With the run game essentially even, 49ers success lies in the hands of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. While the 49ers run game may have mild success, the pressure will be on the young quarterback to make plays. This will be the toughest challenge Kaepernick has faced in his brief time as a starter, and it will be on a national stage with all of America watching.

Though he’s had some growing pains thus far, he’s dazzled fans with electrifying plays, displaying the potential and upside that has coaches and fans raving. Kaepernick is capable of doing big things with this offense, but he’ll need help around him. Frank Gore has gone six straight games without reaching 100 yards, and with backup Kendall Hunter injured, it’ll be all Gore going forward. A successful run games leads to ball control and winning the possession battle, one of the most important things teams need to do in order to beat the Patriots. If a team can keep Tom Brady off the field, then they are in great shape. For the 49ers to win, Frank Gore will need to break the 100-yard plateau and have a big game. The 49ers will have to feed Gore the ball often, but it must be successful. If they run it too often with minimal success, the 49ers will be asking for trouble. If they get too stubborn, they won’t move the ball and will be settling for punts and field goals too often. If they get into a habit like that, Brady will have the ball in his hands more often than the 49ers will want.

Kaepernick’s receivers will also have to catch the ball. Receivers have dropped a couple of touchdowns since Kaepernick took over, but will have to make the most of every single scoring opportunity against a Patriots team that can easily put points up on the board. Short story: No Drops

But the biggest question mark will be Greg Roman’s play calling. When Alex Smith was benched, fans everywhere expected more deep balls with Kaepernick’s powerful arm. The play calling has continued to be conservative, with few shots taken deep downfield. With weapons like Vernon Davis and Randy Moss at his disposal, Roman will need to open up the playbook and let the talent on offense do its thing. Conservative will not work against the Patriots.

If the 49ers can execute on offense, they have a great chance of winning this game. But New England’s offense will try to run up the points on San Francisco’s great defense in part 2…