I'm brand new here, and this is my very first post. It will quickly become obvious to you guys that I don't have the access to replay and review game vids over and over. There's always tension between style and substance. My rope between the two is probably sagging noticeably, but like many of you, I am not afraid to enter the fray while under-armed. With interest towards full disclosure, this article has already been posted at azcentral.com.
I studied the stats again this week. There's nothing in there that is TRULY surprising, although I wasn't able to find access to all the stats I would like to see. I admit I didn't work as hard at finding the stats as I might have, but the whole exercise is a little dizzying. If somebody knows where I can find the best complete stats easily, including things like red zone performance and other "specialty" stats beyond the mundane "offense, defense, special teams" fodder, please let me know. I don't mind taking the time to study, analyze, and report the stats; I just have some trouble finding the time to LOOK for them.
I'm going to do my best to keep this short and simple, but there's no avoiding that it's still going to be a fairly long and detailed analysis. I'm just going to give my conclusions along with some brief evidence to support them, but it still takes some time to write and read those conclusions. Anybody who prefers a short version should say a small prayer and look for it at www.whoUthinkIam?.com.
On Run Defense, the 49ers actually hold a substantial edge in yds/run (3.6 to 4.4) and yds/gm (95.8 to 104.8), but everything else is about equal--and good. By yds/gm, the 49ers rank #5 and the Cards are #12. On Pass Defense, the teams are also surprisingly similar--statistically speaking. They could almost pass for twins.
The equality on Defense is reflected in the total point totals allowed--49ers=233; Cards=234.
Here's where I think the difference might exist: The Cards have only held one team under 13 pts (Hawks, 3 pts, Oct 6), but the most points they have allowed is 31 against the Colts and 34 against the Panthers--and we all know that those two games were anomalous, given the context of the season (look it up--the dictionary is a free education). Most of the Card's opponents this year have scored close to a "normal" total of 17-21 points.
On the other hand, the 49ers shut out the Rams, held the Bears to 6, and the Jags to 3; but they gave up 45 to Atlanta, and their pts/gm this year is fairly evenly distributed along the entire number line in between the Rams total of zero and the Falcons 45.
Because of those three dramatically low scores, you could say the 49ers have shown a better ability to completely stifle the scoring of their opponent; but because of the wide scatter of points allowed from game to game, you could also conclude that they are just more inconsistent than the Cardinals defense, and that's where I'm hanging MY hat.
My conclusion on defense is that the Cards are better and more consistent than the Niners, but that they almost always have that one lapse every game, that one series--ala the Titans--when they allow the opposition to score and achieve a total of 20-21 pts instead of holding them to the 13-14 pts that they should. It really comes down to playing their regular game and then making that one extra tackle or deflecting that one extra pass.
Yes, I'm saying the difference between the pedestrian defense the Cards have played all year and the GREAT D they are actually capable of is, like, one or two plays every game. That might all have changed last week against the Vikings. If the Cards can maintain their focus and their sense of purpose--and especially if A-dub can soften his hands and actually catch a ball that lands in his lap (it's a JOKE!)--this Bill Davis defense might just play like the assassins they actually are--all the way to a ring.
Time for me to get offensive! (It's another joke; I'm never offensive.) It's no surprise that the Cardinals' pass offense is substantially superior to that of the 49ers all across the board. It might be a little surprising that the run offenses are fairly close--statistically speaking; and neither run O looks very good--again, statistically. The intangible factors are these:
1) Alex Smith is making the 49ers pass offense better since he has been starting.
2) Since Alex Smith started playing, Frank Gore has almost disappeared. Many media analysts have ascribed this phenomenon to the fact to that the Niners are playing a spread offense for Alex. They say Gore isn't effective out of that formation, but another possible explanation is that Gore is getting considerably fewer carries, now, while Singletary focuses on his new QB. The question is this: Is Gore getting fewer carries because he is ineffective, or is he ineffective because he's getting fewer carries?
3) The Cardinals' run game has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. They have been showing a consistent threat to run for over 100 yds/gm--as well as actually having done so against some pretty good defenses. It doesn't show up in the statistics because that math is a season-long average.
4) Jeremy Bridges, all by his own self, played very well last week in place of the injured Mike Gandy, in spite of the fact that he also had help on several plays from double teams and chip blocks from tight ends and running backs.
My conclusion on offense is that I won't be at all surprised if Whiz holds Gandy out another week to get him fully healed; and neither will I be surprised if he starts Gandy or splits time between him and Bridges in some way. In any case, I expect Whiz to stay with some of the double teams and chip blocks that were so effective against the Vikings last week when Warner finally found his way down field with consistency for the first time this year. There were other reasons for Warner's success, of course, but the outstanding play of the O-line (along with the help they had) has to be number one.
I also expect Singletary to try to get Gore back in the game plan somehow, after all the talk about how he has disappeared. I don't know if Gore can't run out of the Spread, or if there is something else going on; but the Niners can't really expect Alex Smith to beat Kurt Warner straight up without some kind of scheme. The Cardinals need to maintain the gap discipline they showed against the Vikes. If they can shut Gore down early (and it won't hurt to score some on their own), then they can feast on Alex Smith--but I wouldn't get cocky about that, either.
These teams hate each other, and the players all have their pride--and I think that extends to the coaches. The Niners are fading. The Cards are soaring. Mike Singletary will pull out all the stops to win this one. Coach Whiz should expect everything and anything. Too bad for the 49ers, but this is their Super Bowl!