3TFO: 49ers @ Patriots, Week 15

The 49ers-Patriots game could be a Super Bowl preview, but it's definitely going to be a battle in the trenches, highlighted by NFL sack leader Aldon Smith.

| 5 years ago

The 49ers-Patriots game could be a Super Bowl preview, but it's definitely going to be a battle in the trenches, highlighted by NFL sack leader Aldon Smith.

3TFO: 49ers @ Patriots, Week 15

For the second week in a row, we have a primetime matchup between two of the league’s best teams. Last week the New England Patriots disposed of the Houston Texans, but things won’t get any easier this week as the San Francisco 49ers make the cross-country trip to Foxboro in what could be a Super Bowl preview.

The two teams are tops in the league in point differential as New England is scoring 198 more than its opponents, while San Francisco holds a 132-point advantage. The Patriots feature the top scoring offense (36.3 points/game) in the league, while the 49ers’ defense has been the stingiest on defense with only 14.1 points surrendered.

It’s a heavyweight battle any way you shape it, and both teams will have the nation’s attention as they continue to jockey for playoff positioning.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups in the game.

Patriots Passing Game vs. 49ers Secondary

It was a full team effort for the Patriots Monday night, but their success still starts with quarterback Tom Brady. Our No. 2 rated quarterback, he’s playing as well as ever this season and remains firmly entrenched in the thick of the MVP race. It’s a well-rounded passing game as wide receiver Wes Welker controls the short part of the field with his league-leading 70 receptions out of the slot. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd hasn’t put up the gaudy fantasy numbers many hoped when he signed with New England, but he’s filled his role as a deep and intermediate threat as 49% of his targets have been beyond 10 yards. Then there is tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has 16 receptions in the past two games. His Yards/Route Run ranks sixth at the position and he’s starting to regain the shiftiness that has been missing in his injury-riddled season.

How will San Francisco match up with New England’s weapons? It will start with cornerback Carlos Rogers, who kicks inside in their nickel package. He’ll see Welker the majority of the time and he ranks fifth among slot cornerbacks, surrendering only 0.88 Yards/Cover Snap.  On the outside, cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver are having strong years with coverage grades of +8.8 and +8.9 respectively. Culliver plays exclusively in sub packages and he’s leading the league with only 0.66 Yards/Cover Snap, and he’s also at the top with only 42.9% of passes being completed his way. Brown is in the top half of the league at 32nd in Yards/Cover Snap at 1.20, and this looks like a secondary that is capable of keeping up with the Patriots’ passing attack.

Trench Battle 1: Patriots Offensive Line vs. 49ers Front Seven

OK, enough about the passing game. This game is going to feature some hard hitting action up front. The 49ers feature one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL while the Patriots’ offensive line deserves some credit for a revamped running attack. Last week, left guard Logan Mankins was outstanding in his return from injury grading at +4.1. He’ll see plenty of defensive end Justin Smith in one of the nastiest one-on-one battles of the season. Smith is second among 3-4 defensive ends with a Run Stop Percentage of 11.6 and while his Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) is down to 5.3 this season (9.1 in 2011), he’s still done his usual work in clogging up pass rush lanes to open the door for potential record-breaking sack artist Aldon Smith.

Another matchup to watch in the running game is center Ryan Wendell trying to get to the second level on inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. Wendell is our top run blocker at the position at +17.7, while Willis and Bowman rank third (+12.6) and fourth (+10.8) against the run. Willis is our second-most efficient tackler at the position, missing one every 31.2 attempts, while Bowman is third in Run Stop Percentage at 13.2.

Finally, Aldon Smith and his 20 sacks deserve mention as he approaches the NFL sack record. Despite the big numbers, he is still lagging behind a few other defensive players in the race for the Defensive Player of the Year, but he’s on a tear of late grading at +14.5 in his past four games, with 11 sacks. He’ll be matched up with tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder, who rank 23rd (95.3) and 25th (95.1) in Pass Blocking Efficiency.

Trench Battle 2: 49ers Offensive Line vs. Patriots Defensive Line

The 49ers may have the most diverse running game in the league and they’ll be going up a Patriots’ front seven that is built to stop the run. San Francisco is capable of running anything from man or zone schemes to now incorporating more quarterback runs with Colin Kaepernick at the helm. The run blocking from the offensive line, tight ends and fullbacks has been outstanding. There are great matchups all along both lines, but keep a close eye on the interior. Guards Alex Boone (+17.1 run block) and Mike Iupati (+19.6 run block), as well as center Jonathan Goodwin (+12.6 run block) will have their work cut out for them against New England’s front, particularly defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. He’s been outstanding of late, grading at +15.0 over his past four games and recording 12 stops.

On the outside, defensive end Chandler Jones has been New England’s best pass rusher at +4.7 and a PRP of 8.4. He’ll match up with San Francisco’s best pass blocker, left tackle Joe Staley, who is grading at +9.9 with a PBE of 95.7.

It’s strength against strength all over the field for this game so it should be one of the most exiting matchups of the entire season.


Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • roguepatriot

    I expect a close game. This is going to be a good test for the Niners. Despite,their metrics, they really haven’t beaten anybody (Chicago and GB are not elite) and got crushed, at home, by the Giants. They’re 0-1-1 vs the Rams!

    I expect to see more of Brandon Bolden as he works his way towards getting significant PT. Ridley is one fumble away from the doghouse.

  • roguepatriot

    From the Signature Stats: QBs/Time In Pocket/2.6 secs and more, I gleaned this nugget…

    Completion %: Tom Brady 49.5 (27th – 50% snaps – LAST) with 215 Dropbacks out of 518.

    Is this a fluke? Does indicate anything of significance?

  • Avid Reader

    How is Brady his second rated QB? I assume the media manipulated Manning is #1. Yet Brady has more yards, more TDs, beat Manning’s top ten defense while Manning lost to the Pats bottom of the league defense, and Brady has the second greatest stats in NFL History with a TD/turnover ratio of 8.25 compared to Manning’s 2.5.
    Brady 33/4=8.25 even better than MVP Rodgers 7.5 last year, while Manning 30/12=2.5 which is good, just not in the rarified air of 8.25. For Manning to raise his ratio just to six which is still way below Brady’s 8.25, Manning would have to throw or run for 42 TDs in his last three games which is impossible. This just goes to show how far ahead of Manning, Brady is. It’s too bad the media has adopted Manning and manipulates information to get him awards others deserve. A great player, just not anywhere statistically close this year. My angst is not against Peyton who I actually like, but the morons who pretend to be journalists when they are not much more than opinionated bar flies with poor grammar and worse thought processes. If they hate Brady so much, give the award to Adrian Peterson, at least he is the legitimate top rated running back. But then, why should Brady be denied an award he justly earned by having the second best TD/Turnover Ratio in History. Clearly deserving.

    • The Arrow

      A QBs job is to protect the ball and score points. Brady is pushing his team to score more points than any team in NFL History while using a patchwork offensive line and an injury ridden receiving corps which is smaller and slower than Manning’s. Pats have scored just about a hundred points more than Manning’s Broncos. Manning has turned the ball over three times more than Brady. That’s not just 10 percent more, or 25, or 50, or even 100 percent more, but 200 percent more. That’s why Mannings Ratio although good is just a bit above the average, while Brady’s is atmospheric and never done before but once (by Brady in his MVP 2010 season). Give credit where credit is due, to do otherwise just makes you as much a thief as the manipulative media who ave adopted any player without the performance to back it up.

  • Steve Palazzolo

    I assure you, there is no bias in any of our numbers. We grade every play, every throw. At this point, Manning is slightly ahead of Brady, but its very close.

    That has nothing to do with team wins, MVP races a or anything like that. Just a play by play look at every player in the NFL.