Before I start this article we must choose to agree on one major thing. In my opinion, as well as most football fans, while there are certainly many good QBs in the game right now (the Ryans, Roths, Kaeps, Rivers, Lucks, etc), there are four QBs who year after year, regardless of the circumstances, perform at an extremely high level, a cut above all the other QBs in the league. And I hope that we can all agree that these four QBs, regardless of order, are Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady.
Well how do the we face off against these QBs? It seems that no matter how our secondary performs, whether they are doing good or bad, our defensive backs are always the area us fans fret about most, especially against the previously mentioned four QBs. And, after all, our secondary has seemed to crack in the latter parts of seasons in recent years. So how can we expect our secondary to match up against Rodgers, and potentially Brees, Brady, or Manning later in the postseason? Obviously our best guess is by basing our level of success against them in the past. So I will look at some of our matchups against these QBs in the past three years (anything before is practically irrelevant since the arrival of Harbs changed everything, even if we had a talented group of DBs before in guys like Walt Harris and Nate Clements, etc,.)
QB yard numbers can often be inflated by how many attempts the QB takes. In fact, in 2 out of the 6 games mentioned here, the QB topped 300 yards, but also attempted 60+ passes. That is why I will use the yards per attempt stat, as well as good old completion precentage.
We all remember this big game with fond memories. Truly one of the greater moments in Candlestick history, and there have been a lot.
But lets take a look at how we contained Drew Brees. It is important to remember that 2011 was the same year that Brees broke the passing yardage record (which has been re-broken by Manning again obviously), and that same year he was averaging 342.2 yards a game with 46 TDs to just 14 INTs. He also was averaging 8.3 yards per attempt while attaining a 71.2 completion percentage. In this game, he had 462 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Also, Drew Brees completed 40 passes out of 63 attempts, which averages him out to a 63.5 completion percentage and 7.3 yards per attempt, both well below his averages for the season. Drew was also sacked about 1 and a half times per game that regular season, but was sacked 3 times in our game, also above his season average. And, when you factor in the fact that he threw less than 1 pick a game in the regular season but threw two picks in our game, I would say we did a very good job containing Drew, contrary to what the initial look at the stat sheet shows.
Another good game for the 49ers, as we limited the Packers offense to just 22 points. Now, over the course of the 2012 season, Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers averaged 268.4 yards per game, while throwing a pick approximately two games and averaging nearly two and a half touchdowns per game. He also was sacked more than three times per game. He had a completion percentage of 67.2 and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt.
In this game, Rodgers threw for 303 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 pick on 30/44 passing. He had a completion percentage of 68.2 and averaged 6.9 yards per attempt. He was also sacked 3 times. This was one of the rare games in which he threw an interception that season, and we held him under his season averages for TDs and yards per attempt. While he was able to throw for 303 yards completed more than two thirds of his passes, we must remember that this was one of the best passing attacks in the league. And slowing their extremely offensive minded team to just 22 points is an impressive feat nonetheless.
Regarded by many as one of Kaepernick's best games, this was a great team win as we stopped a near comeback. That year, Brady threw for 301.7 yards per game, along with more than 2 TDs per game and an interception approximately every half game, although the 49ers were responsible for two of his 8 interceptions that year. Brady also completed 63% of his passes that year and threw 7.6 yards per attempt. He was also sacked just under twice per year.
In this game however, Brady threw for 443 yards, 1 TD, and 2 picks on 36/65 passing. While allowing 443 yards is rarely a good thing, we must keep in mind that we were playing in Foxboro winter cold in Brady's home field, and we still held him to just 6.8 yards per attempt. He threw 25% of his interceptions that year against us, and only completed 55% of his passes. Once you look at the number of yards compared to how many throws he attempted, in addition to how we forced him into numerous incompletions and interceptions, the 49ers did an admirable job containing Brady, even with Justin Smith out that game and Aldon sustaining an injury. In fact, even with the absence of the Smith brothers, we still manged to sack Brady 3 times. The 49ers did a pretty good job containing Brady that day.
49er fans, myself included, will obviously remember this as an amazing offensive performance, but the defense wasn't too shabby either that game. Now, over the course of the 2012 season, Aaron Rodgers averaged 268.4 yards per game, while throwing a pick approximately two games and averaging nearly two and a half touchdowns per game. He also was sacked more than three times per game. He had a completion percentage of 67.2 and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt.
That game, on 26/39 passing, Rodgers threw for 257 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT. He completed 66.7% of his passes and had 6.58 yards per attempt. In this game we kept Rodgers under his season averages for yards, TDs, completion percentage, and yards per attempt, and over his INT rate. We did a great job slowing Aaron Rodgers in this game, even though we only sacked him once.
Now while this season was a short 9 games for A-Rod, he still managed to put up good stats, and managed a passer rating over 100 for the 5th straight season. In the games that he did play, he was averaging 281 yards per game while completing just under 2/3 of his passes. He averaged 8.7 yards per attempt while averaging just under 2 TDs a game and about half an INT per game, or every two games. He was sacked little over twice a game as David Bakhtiari proved to be somewhat effective at LT in his rookie season for the Packers.
In our game, he threw for 333 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 pick in 21/37 passing. He completed less than 57% of his passes and averaged 9 yards per attempt. We were also able to sack him just twice. Well, when facing a great QB, sometimes they can get the better of us, and that's what happened here. While we did force him into quite a few incompletions, as well as the interception to Eric Reid, he was still able to torch us for 9 yards per attempt en route to 333 yards and 3 TDs. Make no mistake though, this game was an offensive shootout and we still outscored them thanks to about 10.3 yards per attempt by Kaep en route to a 400 yard game passing.
During the course of this season, Drew Brees averaged 322.6 yards per game while completing 68.6% of his passes. He averaged 7.9 yards per attempt, and just under 2 and a half TDs per game with 3 picks every 4 games. He was sacked 37 times, also near 2 and a half times per game.
In our game he threw for 305 yards and 1 TD as well as 1 INT on 30/43 passing. He completed just under 70% of his passes, and averaged under 7.1 yards per attempt. This was a fairly average game for Drew, even while Tarell Brown sustained a rib injury halfway into the game. He reached 300 yards, and didn't make many bad decisions. In fact, his one INT was by Ahmad Brooks in which he deflected the pass at the line of scrimmage and the ball fell right in his hands. Hard to say that was Brees' fault. Just another great play by Brooks, and why he deserved that All-Pro honor. We only sacked him once, but this was the first game Aldon came back, and I'm pretty sure Vic Fangio was having Skuta, Lemonier, and Aldon play rock-paper-scissors to determine each rep. The only constant OLB for us that game was Ahmad, who, with a sack, INT, and FF, was basically a wrecking ball for destroying Saints. All in all, an average game until the end, when Brees and Colston seemed to connect for completion after completion until a Brooks sack led to a very questionable call by the officials that may have cost us a few final home games at the Stick.
All in all we do a pretty good job against some of the NFL's bests. We tend to force QBs into many incompletions, and one thing that stood out to me is that, in all these games against A-Rod, Brees, and Brady, we have forced atleast one interception. That is pretty impressive in my opinion. While, for the most part, they tend to top 300 yards (besides last year's Divisional round matchup with the Packers where we slowed A-Rod to 257 yards), it makes sense when they attempt 60 passes a game. When one of the best QBs in the league takes that many shots down the field, it's inevitable that the defense will let up a little. One thing that I noticed as well is that we aren't seeling out against the pass too. We don't sacrifice our signature run defense either. In fact, I don't believe there was a 60 yard rusher in all of the aforementioned games. And we do sport a 5-1 record in all these games, our only loss being a 3 point heartbreaker to the Saints in which the refs had to decide our fate. All in all I don't think the 49ers should be scared of any top-level passers, since we tend to matchup with them well.