San Francisco 49ers: Who Really Has It 'Better Than Us?'
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After looking like the class of league in Weeks 1 and 2, the 49ers stumbled against the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday in a listless 24-13 loss.
So where do the 49ers stand now? Should they still be considered the best in the league, or have they been surpassed by other teams?
Let's compare the 49ers to a few of the league's top teams and find out the answer.
New York Giants
Despite a shaky first game, the Giants are still one of the best teams in the NFL.
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The Giant’s defense has given up a fair amount of yardage (356 yards per game), but they’ve made up for that by getting the opponent to cough up the ball, forcing 8 turnovers in the early goings of the season.
The problem with the Giants has been inconsistency. The defending champs have the ability to beat anyone, but they have a tendency to get a little sloppy. This shows particularly in games against teams that have no business beating them (like Tampa Bay).
San Francisco had the same problem last week against the Minnesota Vikings, but their overall body of work this season has been stronger than New York’s has.
Obviously, the dominant performance against the Carolina Panthers was promising, but the Giants will need to build off of that.
The Giants and 49ers square off at Candlestick Park in just three weeks, which will clear up a lot of questions about who the better squad is. Until then, the 49ers get the nod because of their defense and the defending champs’ up-and-down play.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense have looked great, but other flaws keep them from San Francisco's level.
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Strangely enough, it’s been the Baltimore Ravens offense, not defense, that has carried them to a 2-1 record through Week 3.
The Ravens defense has given up 401 yards per game and looks like a shell of its former self.
Luckily, the offense has been there to pick up the slack. Ray Rice and crew have racked up 419 yards per game and are the driving force behind Baltimore’s success thus far.
But despite the gaudy numbers, the Ravens offense isn’t near as good as it should be. The Ravens often inexplicably ignore Ray Rice, their best offensive weapon, during huge stretches of games.
For example, in Week 2 against the Eagles, Rice had seven carries for 78 yards in the first half (a whopping 11 yards per carry), and yet he was barely given any opportunities in the second half.
As Jeremy Elliot of The Patriot-News writes:
Rice should have been given the chance to ice this one in the second half against an Eagles defense that struggles to stop the run. Instead, the Ravens threw on the first eight plays and one of the best backs in football didn't touch the ball until there were five minutes left in the third quarter.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to throw the ball, but the Ravens continue to take their best player out of the offensive equation.
Until the Ravens remember who Rice plays for and fix some of their defensive woes, they can’t be considered on the same level as San Francisco.
The Cardinals have looked surprisingly good thus far, but they're not on the 49ers level.
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Let’s do a little blind comparison between two teams, dating back to last season.
Team A (last 12 regular season games): 10-2 overall, 7-0 at home.
Team B (last 12 regular season games): 9-3 overall, 5-0 at home.
They’re pretty similar, right? Clearly, they're two very good teams. It should come as no surprise that one of the teams, Team B, is the 49ers.
But Team A might shock you. It's the Arizona Cardinals.
The 3-0 Cardinals have been the surprise team of the season so far. After squeaking out wins against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 and the New England Patriots in Week 2, Arizona dominated the turnover-prone Philadelphia Eagles last weekend, 27-6.
The Cardinals are actually a lot like the 49ers. They too are led by a stingy defense, and they too have a quarterback that’s expected to manage the offense more than win games with his arm.
But luckily for San Francisco, while the Cardinals play like them, they don’t play as well as them.
Arizona’s defense, while very good, isn’t an elite, shutdown unit like the 49ers' is. They also can’t match San Francisco for offense. The 49ers rushing attack is far more potent than that of the Cardinals (141 yards per game compared to 82.3), and while Alex Smith isn’t an elite quarterback, he’s still far more accomplished than the Cardinals’ Kevin Kolb.
The Cardinals are a good team, and they should be in the mix for a wild-card spot this season. It’s just hard to imagine that they have what it takes to debunk the 49ers as the NFC West champions.
Matt Ryan has the Falcons looking like a Super Bowl contender.
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Ryan’s always been a good quarterback, but he’s looked unstoppable to this point, completing 72 percent of his passes for 793 yards and eight touchdowns. And with Julio Jones and Roddy White to throw to, it’s hard to imagine that he slows down anytime soon.
But despite Ryan's play, the Falcons still have some big flaws—namely their shaky run defense, and the fact that they haven’t played an elite team yet.
The Falcons rank just 24th overall against the run and have a penchant for giving up long gains on the ground (they’ve given up a run of 30 yards or more in all three games this season)
They also haven’t faced much competition.
The plus-46 point differential looks great until you consider that they’ve played the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers, all of whom range from “legitimately awful” to “pretty good.” The Falcons have yet to meet an elite team, and won’t until they face the New York Giants in Week 15 (unless the Cardinals keep on winning).
The Falcons look very good, but they’ll have to address the run defense before they can be said to have it better than the 49ers.
The Texans defense has them looking like the best team in the league.
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The Texans are 3-0 and look like the most complete team in the NFL. The Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Michael Turner-led offense has been as good as advertised, but the real story is the other side of the ball.
Most people expected the defense to take a step back after the departure of star defensive lineman Mario Williams, but somehow it's gotten even better
The Texans defense has been downright nasty to this point. They’ve surrendered just 256 yards per game, forced six turnovers and rank fourth and fifth against the pass and run, respectively. The third-down defense has been particularly dominant. Houston’s opponents are a combined 8-36 on third down conversions, good for just 22 percent.
Now, much like the Falcons, the Texans haven’t played an elite team yet. But outside of that, it’s hard to find many flaws with the squad.
Offensively and defensively, the Texans are playing like a juggernaut, a feat that the 49ers failed to match last week. That makes them the one team in the league that genuinely has it better than San Francisco.
Never fear San Francisco fans—few teams have it better than the 49ers.
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The 49ers can't be considered the surefire best in the NFL any longer, but they're right there with the league's top teams.
The loss to the Minnesota Vikings was, by and large, just a horrible game for San Francisco rather than a sign of things to come.
They're much more the team that dominated in Weeks 1 and 2 than the team that tripped over itself in Week 3.
In the end, the answer to Bailey's question isn't quite “nobody,” but it comes pretty dang close.