The 49ers will have to be at their best to keep up with Tom Brady and the Patriots' No. 1 offense. Here are the keys to victory.
The best way to beat the Patriots is to keep Tom Brady off the field. San Francisco has the NFL's second best rush attack, averaging 161.5 yards per game. It's essential that the 49ers pound the ball and maintain a healthy yards-per-carry average.
This will not be easy. New England's defense ranks eighth in the league against the run, allowing just over 100 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry.
San Francisco's interior offensive line will be the key to success in the run game. New England's Vince Wilfork is as good as any nose tackle at disrupting running plays in the backfield. Fortunately, Mike Iupati is one of the most dominant run blockers in the league. This matchup will be the deciding factor in this game.
A consistent ground game will take the pressure off Colin Kaepernick and give the defense time to rest before taking on Brady and the Pats offense.
The Patriots average one play every 25 seconds (the fastest pace in the NFL). This quick tempo offense could prove deadly against the 49ers' front seven.
San Francisco's only weakness on defense is its lack of depth. If the Patriots offense controls the ball, they will be able to exhaust the 49ers defense with their no-huddle offense.
Aldon Smith, who has accounted for over half of the defense's 38 sacks, is the most vulnerable. Should Smith get tired, the defense will be forced to send additional pressure to get to Brady, which will expose the secondary.
The Pats' fast tempo offense could also work in the 49ers' favor. If the 49ers can force a few three-and-outs, they could hypothetically get off the field after about one minute of play. This will allow the defense to stay fresh and enable the 49ers offense to control the clock.
Carlos Rogers, who typically matches up against the slot receiver, will be seeing a lot of Wes Welker on Sunday night. Welker has the third most receptions in the NFL and will surely see his fair share of targets.
While Rogers has proven to be a capable corner, he has struggled when covering quick slot receivers. Victor Cruz, Percy Harvin and Danny Amendola have combined for 26 receptions against the 49ers this season.
San Francisco needs to jam Welker at the line of scrimmage to throw off the timing of his routes. Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson (The Hawk) will be keeping an extra eye on Welker, and will be looking to knock him out once he catches the football—something which could change the momentum of the game.
Colin Kaepernick won the starting job with his stellar performance against the Chicago Bears. In that game, he was able to throw the ball down the field, which is something that was missing from the 49ers offense with Alex Smith under center.
However, since the Bears game, Kaepernick has not thrown the ball down the field as often. This needs to change against the Patriots.
Greg Roman needs to call a few shots down the field to keep the Patriots' defense honest and to open up room for the run game.
Jim Harbaugh brought in Randy Moss to take the top off the defense. Moss should have had his first long-bomb touchdown last week against the Dolphins...if it weren't for some "adversity" on the flea flicker. Look for Kaepernick to connect with Moss on a deep throw against his former team.
The Patriots' front seven is big and strong, but they are not fast. On the other hand, LaMichael James is small and very fast.
James was effective in a limited role last week, gaining 30 yards on eight carries and 15 yards on one reception.
Whether he is running the ball, running routes or catching screen passes, the 49ers should look to get the ball in his hands. Unlike Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon, James possesses the ability to take it the distance on every play.
The Pats have talented linebackers, but none of them can cover James. Tackling him one-on-one in the open field? Forget about it.
Give the man the ball and let him earn his second-round selection.