By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
The San Francisco 49ers may be hogging all of the offense in the NFC West, but there's plenty of D to go around.
One week after tearing the Jets apart 34-0, the Niners returned home to Candlestick Park and beat down a second-straight AFC East opponent—this time the Buffalo Bills. San Fran had a record-setting day on offense, but holding Buffalo to three points and 204 total yards was equally impressive.
The Seahawks—Sunday's only other divisional squad in action—continued to struggle offensively, but the defense's masterful performance allowed them to sneak out of Charlotte with a 16-12 win over the Panthers.
Counting the Rams' 17-3 win on Thursday night, NFC West teams held opponents to a combined 35 points in Week 5.
1. Offensive Balance at Its Finest
Before Sunday, no NFL offense had ever amassed 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing in one game.
The 49ers became the first to do so in their 45-3 white-washing of the Buffalo Bills, setting a franchise record with 621 total yards of offense. Not even the 2011 New Orleans Saints, who set the NFL record for total yards in a season, accounted for so many yards (highest one-game total was 617) in a single game.
What's even more shocking is the way they went about gaining all these yards. With 311 yards rushing and 310 yards passing, the evidence is clear: you just can't get any more balanced. It helps that the Bills defense would rather live in obscurity than step up and make a stop, of course.
After Sunday's stat-padding performance, the Niners' running game is averaging a league-best 6.1 yards per carry and their 195.8 rushing yards per game is tops in the NFL by a landslide.
Alex Smith's 300-yard passing game was just the third of his eight-year career, but it may be a sign of things to come—at least for one week. San Fran hosts the defending champion Giants next Sunday, and their defense entered Week 5 sitting at No. 29 in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt.
The 49ers aren't known for piling up passing yards in sizable chunks, but they averaged 12.4 YPA against the hapless Bills. Five of Smith's 18 completions went for at least 20 yards.
2. The 49ers Have the NFC's Best Defense, But Seattle's Isn't Far Behind
San Fran's D has allowed three points and 349 yards of offense in the past two weeks. They're allowing an NFC-low 13.6 points per game and, outside of QB Christian Ponder's 23-yard scramble in Week 3, haven't allowed a rushing TD all year.
After finishing 2011 as the No. 1 team in CHFF's Bendability (a Quality Stat that determines a defense's ability to bend, but not break), they appear to be headed to the top once again. San Fran went into Week 5 with a Bendability score of 17.06 (yards per point allowed), which ranked 11th in the NFL, but upped it 19.30 YPPA after dominating the Bills. The one-game increase of 2.24 YPPA makes them a sure-shot to enter the top-five (if not top-three) after Week 5 is all said and done.
We've known the 49ers' D is capable of performances like the ones we've been seeing, but what about Seattle? The Seahawks are only allowing an even 14 points per game, and haven't allowed a single offense to gain 300 yards all year. They came into Week 5 ranking in the top 10 in every defensive Quality Stat, which isn't likely to change after shutting down Cam Newton and the Panthers.
The Seahawks actually got worse in Bendability, moving down from 19.02 YPPA to 18.47 YPPA, but that can blamed on two things. One, they only allowed Carolina to gain 190 yards and forced three-and-outs on seven of the Panthers' 11 drives on the day. Two, a Russell Wilson pick-six and intentional safety by the Seahawks' punter gave Carolina nine of their 12 points in the game.
Seattle has only given up two offensive touchdowns in their past three games. The Cardinals may disagree, but it's safe to say this defensive unit is second to only the 49ers as far as the NFC is concerned.
3. The NFC Best
For now, the debate is over. The NFC West is hands-down the top division in the NFL.
All four squads currently boast a winning record, and they're a combined 11-3 against teams outside their own division. Here are a few other quick stats that have helped the West stand above the rest in 2012.
- Only division in football with all four of its teams allowing less than 20 PPG
- Only division with all four teams in the positive in point differential
- Only division with all four teams having three or more wins
- Only division that hasn't had a single team allow 30+ points in any one game
Yes, the former laughingstock of the NFL is now a powerhouse. Just two years ago, the NFC West crowned the 7-9 Seahawks champions and the division's win-loss record was 25-39. In 2011, the 49ers' 13-3 record led the improvement to 30-34.
With a current win-loss of 14-6, the NFC West would have to finish 11-33 to match that dismal total from 2010. There are 18 divisional games remaining, so nine wins are guaranteed.
In other words, not gonna happen.
4. Alex Smith Rejoins MVP Discussion
The Niners' QB has never had himself a day like this one.
Smith accounted for a career-high 352 yards of offense (303 passing, 49 rushing) against the Bills, and finished with a near-perfect passer rating of 156.2. The highest possible passer rating a QB can have is 158.3, which is what he actually had going into halftime.
He's now completed 68.6 percent (94 for 137) of his throws on the season, good for 1,087 passing yards, 8 touchdowns and just one interception.
Matt Ryan did little to soften his case for MVP of the 2012 season, but Smith's performance definitely thrust him back into the debate. He's now on pace for career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt and rushing yards, and with just one pick in five games, is actually on pace to throw less interceptions than he did in 2011—when he had five.
5. Russell Wilson Has to Improve For the Hawks to Keep Winning
A stout defense and physical run game has allowed Seattle to overcome sub-par QB play, but they're going to need a little more in the coming weeks.
The Seahawks next four scheduled games have them hosting New England, traveling to San Francisco and Detroit, and then back home for Minnesota, respectively.
The only touchdown drive Wilson engineered on Sunday was following a fumble recovery that set them up at the Panthers' 27-yard line. He's thrown five interceptions in the past two weeks, after only having one through Week 3.
The turnovers cost Seattle in Week 4, and nearly again in Week 5. Each of their next four opponents are averaging at least 24 points per game. None of the Seahawks' first five opponents averaged as many PPG, and only the Packers (22.5 PPG) are scoring more than 20 PPG.
Just as we saw with the Cardinals on Thursday night, your defense can only bail you out so much.