The 49ers’ win over the Packers was a dominant one; they never trailed and, really, they never came close to giving up the lead at all. It took the 49ers 10:07 to get their first points on the board, and they held the lead for the final 49:53 of the game, despite the Packers’ best attempts to catch up.

What struck me late in the third quarter was just how conservative offensive coordinator Greg Roman became with his play-calling. Early in the game the 49ers were not just throwing the ball all over the field, but hitting the Packers with a dizzying mixture of run and pass plays as well. Then San Francisco started bleeding clock with running plays. It was nerve-wracking because the Packers remained within striking distance (then again, three touchdowns is striking distance for Aaron Rodgers), but ultimately it was effective.

It’s the same formula they used in 2011 – get a lead and run with it (literally). I decided to do my best Bay Area Stats Guy impression and research the 49ers’ time with the lead last season.

Running the numbers

49ers 2011 season Time spent tied (including 0-0) Time spent trailing Time spent leading
Total time 228:22 230:19 629:16
Average/Game 12:45 12:50 35:00
Tied/Trailing/Leading % 21.2 % 21.1 % 57.7 %
Longest 42:35 (NFC Champ) 46:08 (Wk 3 v. Cin) 57:44 (Wk 8 v. Cle)

– There were eight different games in which the 49ers never trailed: Week 1 vs. Seattle, Week 2 vs. Dallas*, Week 5 vs. Tampa Bay, Week 8 vs. Cleveland, Week 9 @ Washington, Week 11 vs. Arizona, Week 13 vs. St. Louis, and Week 15 vs. Pittsburgh.

*(The Week 2 game vs. Dallas was an overtime loss in which Dallas tied the game on a last second field goal. San Francisco never trailed until the score was final.)

– The 49ers led at least once in 17 of the 18 contests; the one game in which they never took the lead was their Week 12 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

– They held the lead 57.7% of the time they were on the field last season. That’s more than the time they were tied and trailing combined.

Balanced play calling in a passing league

The 49ers rushed the ball on 32 of their 62 offensive snaps Sunday – that’s a 51.61% clip. They threw the ball on the other 48.39% of their offensive snaps and only attempted 6 passes in the second half. This is not only an effective way to keep most of your playbook closed, but it’s also the same way the 49ers won last season.

Vs. Green Bay Total plays Total pass attempts Total rush attempts % Pass attempts % Rush attempts
62 plays 30 32 48.39 51.61

The percentages are pretty in line with last season’s run-pass totals:

Team/2011 Record Total offensive plays Total pass attempts Total rush attempts % Pass attempts % Rush attempts
 49ers/13-3 993 plays 451 attempts 498 attempts 49.85% 50.15 %

Let’s compare that to some notable 2011 playoff teams:

Team/Record Total offensive plays Total pass attempts Total rush attempts % Pass attempts % Rush attempts
Ravens/12-4 1,036 plays 544 attempts 459 attempts 55.69% 44.31%
Giants/9-7 1,028 plays 589 attempts 411 attempts 60.02% 39.98%
Saints/13-3 1117 plays 662 attempts 431 attempts 61.41% 38.59%
Packers/15-1 988 plays 552 attempts 395 attempts 60.02% 39.98%
Texans/10-6 1,046 plays 467 attempts 546 attempts 47.80% 52.20%
Lions/10-6 1,058 plays 666 (yikes!)  356 attempts 66.35% 33.65%
Broncos/8-8 1,017 plays 429 attempts  546 attempts 46.31% 53.69%

(The Lions and Broncos represent 2011’s lowest and highest rush-pass ratios respectively )

The only teams in the league that ran the ball more than the 49ers were the Texans and Broncos, and of all 32 teams, the 49ers’ ratio is the closest to 50-50. All this certainly points to the fact that the NFL is a passing league, but does that mean you can’t win as a running team? Definitely not.

Three of the bottom four teams in run-pass ratio not only went to the playoffs but made it past the first round – evidence that you don’t have to throw the ball 66% of the time to win. The 49ers were able to make it all the way to the NFC Championship with a formula that may not be the sexiest, but it sure is winning football games for them.

BASG already detailed how the 49ers’ players practice to keep their turnover ratio in the positive, but the offensive philosophy plays just as much of a role. By getting and maintaining leads early, the 49ers are able to minimize risks by running the ball and ultimately, win games. They did it last year and they’re using it again this season. Some may saying they’re a “running first” offense, but the 49ers are actually “running to finish.”