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The 49ers run defense is an impregnable wall, with the stout 3-4 front of NT Isaac Sopoaga, and DEs Ray McDonald and Justin Smith leading the way. The 49ers are second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (90.8), and both of their inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are physical and decisive tacklers.
Earlier in the year when the Patriots were demonstrating a new found ability to move the ball on the ground behind Stevan Ridley, there were still doubts whether or not the Pats had a ground-and-pound ability to run on a top run defense when they're in the base. This isn't the week to try and prove that point.
Instead, the Pats should aim to get the 49ers in their sub package and try to run on them then. But lining up in a power formation in an attempt to "establish the run" is futile against the 49ers.
Expect a heavy dose of Danny Woodhead, where he can expect to see Patrick Willis in coverage. The Pats should test Willis with a scatback like Woodhead not only running the ball but in the short passing and screen game as well.
Football Outsiders has the the 49ers pass coverage against running backs ranked 23rd.That is the area to attack, not trying to run Stevan Ridley into the teeth of their defense.
The 49ers other pass defense rankings by target:
- vs. #1 WR: 6th
- vs. #2 WR: 10th
- vs. Other WR: 16th
- vs. TE: 16th
When the Pats must run it, (hopefully to seal the game) it should be up the middle where FO ranks the 49ers 17th. They're top six defending every other gap. And they're especially tough on the edges where they're fifth (offensive left) and third (offensive right).