Intriguing matchup of the best offense in the NFL (by far) with the best defense in the NFL (by far): - The Pats are averaging 36.3 PPG and 425.7 YPG, both well ahead of any team in the NFL. They're very balanced, ranking 5th in passing and 7th in rushing. They lead the league in 1st downs, rushing 1st downs and 3rd down conversion %. They have turned the ball over only 7 times all season. - 49ers are giving up a league-low 14.2 PPG. Very stingy defense. They're 2nd in YPG, 2nd in passing YPG, and tied for 2nd (with Houston!) in rushing YPG. Aldon Smith leads the NFL in sacks with 19.5 and is threatening Michael Strahan's record. Justin Smith presents JJ Watt-like challenges up front. Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman are as active an ILB combo as you will find in the NFL. And the 49ers have a much, much better secondary than Houston. No team has put up more than 26 points on the 49ers this season. It will be interesting to see how the Pats' offense matches up against them. Some things to think about: 1. On Defense: - Is this an "establish the run and then pass" kind of game, or is this more of a "Williams Wall" kind of game? I favor a more varied approach (I'll avoid using the word "balanced"). The 49ers have a good pass defense, so it's not like they are particularly susceptible. Aaron Rodgers put up 303 yards passing and 2 TDs/1 INT against them. Drew Brees moved the ball against them, but forced the ball and ended up with 2 pick 6's. OTOH, the Giants rushed for 149 yards in beating the 49ers 26-3 on the road. The Rams rushed for 159 yards and passed for 299 in playing the 49ers to a 24-24 tie. 4 teams have rushed for over 100 yards against the 49ers this year and the Dolphins rushed for 94. The Pats are averaging almost 140 YPG on the ground, and I'm fairly confident that they can run it against the 49ers. As with the Texans and JJ Watt, establishing the run would help keep the Smiths at bay against Brady. I think that using a full stable of bigger backs (Ridley, Bolden) and quicker backs (Vereen, Woodhead) could wear down the 49ers defense some. I think the New Orleans game is a good example of getting too pass-happy. - The SF LB's are very mobile and good in coverage. It may not be as easy to exploit the middle of the field as with most teams. Dashon Goldson is also a very strong player. OTOH, their CBs are good but not special, and there may be some outside matchups to be exploit. It may make sense to use Hernandez and/or Vereen split outside as a WR in this game. - The OL needs to keep track of the Smiths at all times, much as it did with JJ Watt. TE help will be key. 2. On Defense: - Stopping the run will be the #1 priority. SF is the #1 rushing team in the NFL at over 160 YPG. They don't have the firepower to beat the Pats through the air, or to come from behind. If the Pats get out to a lead and make the 49ers pass, it's going to be difficult. - Too bad Julian Edelman is on IR, otherwise I bet he would be used to play Colin Kaepernick during game preparations this week. The Pats need to prepare for the problems a mobile QB can cause. - I'm hoping that Talib, Dennard and Arrington will be back because I think that the defense can cause an inexperienced QB like Kaepernick to get confused and flustered by throwing a lot of different looks and stunts at him, so long as they have confidence in the back end to protect the deep part of the field. The 49ers deep threats aren't that great, but the defense will have to beware of breakdowns in containment and coverage from Kaepernick extending plays. - The 49ers have given up 32 sacks this year, so look for more blitzes and pressure, hopefully leading to some turnovers. The 49ers are only averaging about 24 PPG, and the Pats defense is averaging 21 PPG, and just over 18 PPG for the last 4 games. It's going to take an above average offensive effort from the 49ers and a good defensive effort for them to win. Special teams could also be a factor, as Andy Lee is one of the best punters in the business.