The San Francisco 49ers are coming off a big Week 14 road win over the New Orleans Saints, and now own a one-game lead for the top seed in the NFC playoff picture. While they've had an incredible season so far, they will need to keep the momentum going during the final three weeks of the regular season, as the Seattle Seahawks are still just one game behind in the NFC West.
The 49ers lost to the Seahawks at home in Week 10, in a highly contested overtime battle on "Monday Night Football." The two teams meet again in Week 17, in what could very easily be a matchup to decide the division. With that in mind, here are four stats that show just why the 49ers are the superior NFC West team.
The 49ers made some major improvements to their pass rush this season and it has shown, as they are currently third in the NFL in sacks with 45.0. San Francisco remarkably has four players in the top 35 in sacks, including team-leader Arik Armstead with 10.0 and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Nick Bosa with 8.0. The Seahawks, meanwhile, rank No. 29 in the league with 23.0 sacks, as they have been unable to generate any consistent pressure all season. San Francisco can cause a lot of problems for Russell Wilson, who was sacked five time against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14.
2. On-Target Throws
Jimmy Garoppolo has really turned things on as of late, and has been getting it done with elite accuracy, as he's completed at least 70.0 percent of his passes in the past four weeks. In fact, the 49ers are second in the NFL in on-target throws per pass attempt at 81. 3percent, behind only the Drew Brees-led New Orleans Saints, long considered one of the most efficient passing attacks in the league. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson is at 76.6 percent in on-target-throws per pass attempt. Garoppolo's steady improvement in accuracy is extremely vital this year, as he has a trio of pass-catchers who can all excel after the catch in George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel.
3. Rushing Yards Before Contact
Both the 49ers and Seahawks have had great rushing attacks this season, but Seattle recently lost Rashaad Penny to a season-ending injury in Week 14, weakening its strategy with a two-back approach in his role alongside Chris Carson. As for the 49ers' ground game, San Francisco has used up to four RBs effectively in Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr.. No matter who has been rushing the ball for the Niners, their offensive line has done a great job creating running lanes, as the team is second in total rushing yards before contact (1,243) this season. While San Francisco is averaging 2.9 yards before contact per attempt, Seattle is averaging just 2.2 yards, despite its run-heavy tendencies. As the 49ers have a stout defense up front, compared to the Seahawks, they are positioned to win the war of the trenches when these two teams meet again in Week 17.
4. Third Down Defense
It may not have been the case in Week 14 against the New Orleans Saints, when both teams were moving the ball at will, but the 49ers have been the NFC's stingiest defense on third down this season. They join the New England Patriots as the only two teams in football allowing a sub-30.0 percent conversion rate on third downs (28.95 percent). Russell Wilson is a master improvisor in these spots, but even he may run into trouble against a 49ers defense that has played elite football at every level so far this season. San Francisco did lose Richard Sherman and Dee Ford in Week 14, however, and it will need to be at full strength to maintain its defensive dominance in the weeks ahead.
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