Stats & Info: NaVarro Bowman

Biggest plays this season for 49ers

January, 25, 2013

John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports
NaVorro Bowman (53) celebrates after breaking up a pass to send the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

For the San Francisco 49ers, what plays were the most important in winning games on their way to the Super Bowl?

Here are the 10 plays that most improved their chances of winning through the regular season the playoffs.

Later today, we'll have the list for the Baltimore Ravens.

1. NFC Championship at Atlanta
4th and 4, 1:13 left in 4th Quarter
NaVorro Bowman breaks up pass intended for Roddy White

With the Atlanta Falcons driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown, the 49ers' defense makes the biggest play of their season to essentially lock up a trip to New Orleans. Bowman's pass breakup resulted in a turnover on downs.

49ers' win probablility pre-play: 65.9%; post-play: 97.4% (+31.5%)

2. Week 12 at New Orleans
2nd and 10, 0:31 left in 2nd Quarter
Ahmad Brooks intercepts Drew Brees and returns it for a touchdown

Ahmad Brooks
Already trailing by a touchdown with the New Orleans Saints nearing field-goal range to potentially take a two-score lead into the locker room for halftime, Brooks picks off Brees' pass intended for Jimmy Graham and goes 50 yards for a tying touchdown.

49ers' win probability pre-play: 18.4%; post-play: 47.0% (+28.6%)

3. Week 10 vs. St. Louis
Kickoff with 8:40 left in 4th Quarter
Darcel McBath recovers fumble on kickoff return

Just after the 49ers had cut a 17-7 deficit to 17-14, they forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Tramaine Brock knocked the ball loose from the St. Louis Rams' return man, Isaiah Pead, and McBath picked it up and returned it to the Rams' 20. One play later, Frank Gore took it the rest of the way to give San Francisco a 21-17 lead in a game that would ultimately end in a tie.

49ers' win probability pre-play: 31.3%; post-play: 57.1% (+25.5%)

The rest of the 49ers' top 10:

Colin Kaepernick
4. Colin Kaepernick's 50-yard scramble with 2:28 left sets up a game-tying FG vs. the Rams in Week 13 (+23.8%).

5. Kaepernick's 56-yard TD run vs. the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Playoffs (+19.8%).

6. A 38-yard TD pass from Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree breaks a 31-31 tie at New England in Week 15 (+18.8).

7. Kaepernick's 49-yard pass to Crabtree swings the division-clincher vs the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 (+17.1%).

8. C.J. Spillman recovers Marcus Thigpen's muffed punt in a Week 14 win over the Miami Dolphins (+17.0%).

9. Aldon Smith recovers Falcons' fumbled snap in the NFC Championship Game (+15.6%).

10. Donte Whitner returns an interception for a touchdown to give the 49ers the winning points against the Saints in Week 12 (+14.2%).

49ers, Ravens run defenses dominate

November, 22, 2011
On the surface, the headline story of the Thanksgiving night game is San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh taking on his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, the first brother vs brother head coaching matchup in NFL history. In fact, they're the only brother head coaching combination in NFL history.

But, once the whistle blows, the 49ers and Ravens game will feature two smashmouth teams on the field. If Thursday’s game comes down to running the football, both teams will be up against a stingy run defense.

The Ravens are allowing only 3.3 yards per rush, the lowest mark in the NFL. Meanwhile, the 49ers’ defense has the best EPA (Expected Points Added) rushing per 100 plays at -18.8. This adjusts for down/distance, field position and time remaining. (Note: only accounts for designed rushes, not QB scrambles.)

San Francisco is also one of three teams to not allow a rushing TD in its first 10 games since the merger, joining the 1997 49ers and the 1986 New York Jets.

While the Ravens have built a reputation as one of the toughest defenses in the league, the 49ers are more of a surprise. San Francisco can thank Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman, one of the best middle linebacker duos in the league, for their success.

Patrick Willis
With Willis and Bowman, San Francisco has one of the best rush defenses, relying heavily on their front seven to stop the run. The 49ers load the box, when the defense has more players in the box than the offense has available blockers, on only 8.6 percent of the opposing team’s plays, fewest in the league. Expect the Ravens to apply more pressure, as they load the box on 19.5 percent of the time.

Opposing running backs have a tough time breaking tackles against the 49ers, as their defense is allowing 1.55 yards after contact per rush, second-lowest in the league.

When it comes to short-yardage situations, both teams offer little real estate. The 49ers have allowed nine rushing yards on eight rushes (1.13 yards per rush) in goal-to-go situations this season, compared to 1.26 yards per rush allowed by the Ravens.

On third down rushes with three yards or fewer to gain, San Francisco has limited opponents 0.50 yards per rush on 10 rushes, while Baltimore allows only 1.46 yards per rush on 13 rushes.

You can't ignore the impact that Harbaugh has had on the 49ers in his first year with the club. The 49ers were coming off a 6-10 season and haven't made the playoffs since 2002. This year, Harbaugh had led the 49ers to a 9-1 start, as many wins as the other three NFC West teams have combined this season.

Harbaugh turning around a team isn't unprecedented. He took over a Stanford team that went 1-11 in 2006, and in each of his four seasons with the school, improved its record up to his final year, when he led the Cardinal to an 11-1 record and an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech.

San Francisco has won eight straight games since an overtime loss in Week 2 to the Cowboys. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the fourth-longest win streak by a rookie head coach since the NFL-AFL merger.

Should the 49ers win on Thanksgiving and the Seahawks lose Sunday, San Francisco will clinch the NFC West, just 11 games into the season. That would tie the mark for fewest games into a season to clinch a division title since 1978, last done by the 2009 Indianapolis Colts.