The San Francisco 49ers will take on the indomitable New England Patriots this evening in Foxborough. And when they do, despite the current rhythm of the Patriots offense, their defense will do just fine—if not better.
It's not a popular stance to take. And for the sake of my prognosticatory reputation, it's not a guarded one either. I mean, did you see what New England did to the Texans last weekend? Did you see how easy they made that look?
Houston isn't the first team Tom Brady and Co. have embarrassed, and they surely won't be the last. The Pats have surpassed 50 points twice this season, 45 another two times, and 40 another time after that. That is, of their 13 games in 2012, they've scored 40-plus points in more than a third of them.
And they've been even hotter as of late, scoring 37-plus in five of their last six contests. Five of six! In that stretch, they're averaging a cool 42.5 points per game and winning by an average margin of 24.
But to the San Francisco 49ers, those are just numerics. Because the San Francisco 49ers are a different kind of monster.
It should come as no surprise that, according to Football Outsiders, New England has the NFL's best offense. By a large margin. But it should also come as no surprise that Football Outsiders ranks San Francisco the NFL's second-best defense.
They aren't intimidated by the daunting statistics of the Patriots offense—in part because they don't care, and in part because they have some daunting statistics of their own.
37-plus points in five out of six games? That's cute, I guess. But earlier in the season, the 49ers allowed six or fewer points in four our of five.
Again: Six or fewer points in four of five games. In the post-rule-change version of the NFL—the one that allows wide receivers to run around willy-nilly without being so much as breathed on—that's completely unheard of. That's a statistic from another era.
But the 49ers like it that way. They're an anachronistic unit that revels in their old-school tenacity. They're gonna walk into Foxborough this evening and show the Pats something that they've never seen.
They're gonna show them Aldon and Justin Smith, rushing relentlessly from every which direction, like the quarterback is a magnet and they are pieces of scrap metal. They're gonna show them Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, covering ground from sideline to sideline, as though the field is as wide as a basketball court. They're gonna show them an ears-pinned-down intensity that no defense in this league is capable of matching, and do so with talent that matches their ferocity.
I'm not quixotic enough to believe they'll shut down the Pats' offense entirely. That's legitimately impossible. You can only hold Brady down for so long before he figures you out, makes adjustments, finds interstices in which to thread the football.
San Francisco, the immovable object, will attack New England's unstoppable force with a powerful force of its own. And the bout of rough-and-tumble chess that ensues should, and will, be a pleasure to watch.
But if New England thinks, even for a fraction of an iota of a second, that this game will come as easily as the Houston game did?
Let's just say they've got another thing coming.