The San Francisco 49ers can run the ball as well as any team in the NFL, can stop both the run and the pass, and has Alex Smith playing efficiently, especially after a tremendous 18-of-19 performance in which he threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns and had a quarterback rating of 157.1, just two-tenths of a point away from a perfect quarterback rating.
They're built to beat anyone in the NFL, as long as they stick to this game plan. They can't get too cute with Colin Kaepernick (even though he can be a weapon), and they can't try to be a team that chucks the ball down the field 30 times per game. That's not who they are, and that's not why they've gone 19-5 in the first 24 games of the Jim Harbaugh era.
Here's where San Francisco has excelled.
It all starts with the 49ers defense. Right now they're ranked first in the league in total defense, holding teams to an average of 271.4 yards per game. They're not allowing teams to score either, as they're first in the league in points allowed per game with a 12.9-points-per-game average.
This isn't a statistical anomaly; that's just how good this team has been on the defensive side of the ball. They did a great job holding the Green Bay Packers offense down in Week 1, and the momentum has carried them ever since.
You can't even blame the defense too much for their horrible performance against the New York Giants, as that was caused more by turnovers on offense than bad defense. Overall this is a great defense, the No. 1 defense in the league for a very good reason.
They've been especially good against the run, where they're ranked seventh in the NFL, allowing only 87.3 yards per game. Against the Cardinals, they allowed seven rushing yards.
You have that in your back pocket, and you have a team poised for the Super Bowl. But the offense has to produce too, and while they have been a bit hit or miss on that side of the ball, when it works, it works well.
You really don't hear too much about Frank Gore being an elite running back, which is a shame because he's not only one of the best in the NFL, but has also been doing it for quite a while.
The 49ers run game is ranked first in the NFL, averaging 168.7 yards per game. This allows them to control the clock while chewing up the field in a methodical fashion.
Gore himself has been great this season, running for 656 yards. He's not the only rushing threat on the 49ers, though, as Kendall Hunter has run for 301 yards in his 60 carries this season, with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick also contributing to the running game.
If the 49ers take an early lead with their rushing attack and allow their defense to put in the work that has made them the best in the league, they're a threat. But even their much-maligned passing game has been a weapon for them.
When you put Alex Smith in his element, he could be efficiently effective.
His Monday Night Football effort was his most efficient effort of the season, but not his best of the season, as hard as that is to believe when you consider that only one pass fell incomplete against Arizona. Against Buffalo he surgically took apart their defense, going 18-of-24 for 303 yards and three touchdowns, finishing with a quarterback rating of 156.2.
Now you can't expect Smith to put up efforts like this every game. He has had a couple of stinkers this year, but the fact that said stinkers came within four days of each other (and one of them wound up being a 49ers victory anyway) tells me that he might not be prolific, but he will be efficient.
The Randy Moss touchdown shown in the video above is the best example of that. It started off as a short pass, but Moss was able to turn it into more. Smith has the right receivers around him to do just that, not just with Moss but with Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis, along with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter catching passes out of the backfield.
Put this formula together, and you have a team that can go far in the playoffs. While the revolution in the NFL seems to be all about the passing game, the best teams are still the teams that can run the ball very well while stopping the run and being efficient when passing the ball.
That's the San Francisco 49ers' blueprint, and when they use it, they're dangerous.
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