Alright, I’m not a scout, but I did go check out the San Francisco 49ers first-hand on Sunday.
The 49ers are nipping at the Green Bay Packers heels with a 9-1 record and are firmly entrenched as the NFC’s No. 2 seed at present. They won their eighth game in a row on Sunday by dispatching the outmanned Arizona Cardinals 23-7 in rainy conditions.
So what do I know about the 49ers after seeing them play?
First, I know their fans suck. Despite having a top-of-the-line NFL team for the first time in who knows how long, Candlestick Park only looked about half full on Sunday. Sure, it was drizzling and wet for most of the day. Granted, the 49ers were playing the hapless Cardinals. Maybe we’re spoiled, but Lambeau Field would have been packed and rocking under those same conditions.
Second, we know the 49ers defense is dominant and it’s largely due to linebacker Patrick Willis. Willis had seven tackles, an interception and a forced fumble on Sunday, but even when he wasn’t making the play, he was around. He changed runs, he altered passes and didn’t ever seem to be out of position.
The Cardinals offense played without injured quarterback Kevin Kolb on Sunday, but they never threatened until getting a garbage touchdown in the fourth quarter. That’s despite the 49ers missing three first-half field goals. Perhaps most telling was the Cardinals were one-for-nine on third down.
Are the Packers the Cardinals? Not even close, thankfully, but this looks like the toughest defense the Packers could potentially face in the playoffs.
Third, we know what the 49ers offense is. They’ll run the ball, even if they’re not having a ton of success. Running back Frank Gore got the ball 24 times on Sunday and gained 88 yards, which is a fairly inefficient 3.6 yards per carry. Backs Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter combined for an additional 18 carries. That’s 42 total carries.
No one had a run longer than 14 yards.
The X factor is quarterback Alex Smith, who was solid against the Cardinals’ terrible secondary. He threw for 267 yards, two touchdowns and an interceptions. This isn’t an offense that takes chances.
Other than a 38-yard pass to Michael Crabtree and a 27-yarder to Vernon Davis, the 49ers offense will do its best to lull you to sleep. They rely heavily on short outs, crosses and slants. That is, when they’re not relying on their three yards and a cloud of dust rushing attack.
In a potential matchup with the 49ers, the Packers would be wise to play their base defense to stop the run and put their corners in man-to-man against San Francisco’s receivers, who aren’t all that talented. Matching Charles Woodson on Davis, the 49ers tight end, has proven to work in the past.
Fourth, don’t look for a high-scoring affair if these two teams meet in the playoffs. I’d expect something along the lines 21-17.