Preview: How the Niners match up against the Patriots

49ERS DEFENSE VS. PATRIOTS OFENSE: Arguably the best offense against the best defense in the NFL, but San Francisco matches up well and here’s why. The Niners can harass Tom Brady with their four defensive lineman – Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks – and cover the skill players with their seven other defenders (linebackers and defensive backs). The Niners can do what the Giants defense did to the Patriots last season, only better. San Francisco hit Eli Manning at least 18 times in the NFC championship game. If the 49ers can get to Brady half as many times when they play him Week 15 next season, they’ll have a good chance to beat him.

But it won’t be as easy as just sacking him. Brady can beat a good pass rush by throwing quick passes to his slot receiver, Wes Welker. Luckily for the Niners, they have one of the best slot corners in the NFL – Carlos Rogers. If Rogers can keep Welker in check by himself, the Niners are in business.

Of course, Brady wants to throw to his tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Herenandez. No defense in the NFL is as equipped to cover those two as the Niners are with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez are Brady’s three favorite targets, and the three Patriots skill players who cause the biggest matchup problems for opposing defenses, but the Niners should be able to cover each player man-to-man. Brady’s going to have to throw into tight coverage, and the Niners will have plenty of opportunities to pick him off.

Yes, the Patriots do have two new additions at wide receiver – Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney. Gaffney’s not a big threat – the Niners can single cover him with Tarell Brown. They can also single cover Lloyd with Chris Culliver. If Culliver can stick to Calvin Johnson and Mario Manningham, I think he can stick to Lloyd.

If the Niners defense is completely healthy when they play the Patriots next season, they could hold New England under 20 points – that’s how well they match up.

49ERS OFENSE VS. PATRIOTS DEFENSE: New England’s defense wasn’t good last regular season, but it did record 40 sacks – two less than the Niners. They lost Mark Anderson (10 sacks in ‘11), who signed with the Bills, but they drafted a pass rusher in the first round – Chandler Jones – and head coach Bill Belichick specializes in manufacturing a pass rush.

If an offense has top-notch pass protection and a Pro Bowl quarterback, it can torch the Patriots defense through the air. But the Niners don’t have that combination. They need to establish their running game first when they play New England.

The Patriots allowed 4.6 yards per carry last season. That’s bad. They’ll have to stack the box with their safeties to stop Frank Gore. While it’s usually a bad idea to run against a stacked box, the Niners can and should do it against New England. They should impose their will and run the ball right down the Patriots’ throat from “heavy” personnel – two tight ends (Davis and Delanie Walker), two running backs (Bruce Miller and Frank Gore) and one wide receiver (Randy Moss).

When San Francisco moves the chains a couple times on the ground from their heavy formations, New England will over-commit to stopping Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs, and then Randy Moss can burn them on a deep play-action pass.

If Randy Moss burns New England deep, they’ll probably double team him, and that will open up Vernon Davis and the rest of the offense. Anyway, that’s the theory.

As long as the Niners can establish the run, they will win this matchup.

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