LONDON — The 49ers have no doubt that the Jacksonville Jaguars can be a formidable opponent despite their 0-7 record. Just watch the tape.
The 49ers return to London for the second time in three years as part of the NFL International Series, playing the Jaguars on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
The defending NFC champions are 5-2 and in the thick of the NFC West title race with the Seattle Seahawks (6-1). San Francisco last played an overseas game in 2010, beating the Denver Broncos 24-16 at Wembley.
It may sound cliché, but the 49ers are trying not to overlook their opponent. And they have the film to prove it.
“We're trailing Seattle right now, so our mindset is we have to get this one. We're in the hunt, motivation is not a problem,” 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith said Thursday from the team's training camp outside London. “(They're) playing for (their) jobs, playing for (their) career. You're putting tape out to prove you belong in this league.”
Looking at the tape (or film), the 49ers see a worthy, hungry opponent in the winless Jaguars.
“When you turn on the film you might have preconceived ideas yourself. But when you look at the film, the film tells you everything,” said offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who compared Jacksonville's defensive scheming to the Seahawks. “They are a very dangerous team. While they haven't come up with (any) wins, they are getting better every week.”
For the 49ers, the tape has revealed a dangerous defensive line that applies heavy pressure and delivers clean hits on the quarterback. On the offensive end, getting back in the lineup wide receiver Justin Blackmon has made a difference for the Jaguars, who are also counting on the return of wide receivers Ace Sanders and Stephen Burton.
“They've made a lot of improvements in the last four weeks. The evidence is on the tape when you watch it, and the evidence is there when you look at the stats,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “This is the NFL and there is a fine line between winning and losing.”
The 49ers have won four straight and are on a different momentum swing to the Jaguars. But there are other tangibles, such as the Wembley Stadium field, And intangibles — the fatigue from travel — that could sway both teams come Sunday. Both insist they are settling into their surroundings without fault and will be ready.
“It's a far cry from 'Faulty Towers,' ” Roman said of the team's luxury hotel in the countryside, alluding to the British TV sitcom that starred Monty Python's John Cleese as a farcical hotel owner. “There's rich history here. (But now) we're grinding away. We've been doing nothing much but preparing for the game.”
The effects of travel and another time zone are talked up, but there are some positives to the long flight.
“Fortunately with the iPad to be able to watch tape and an 8 1-2 hour trip gives you some time,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said.
Regardless of the statistics, the momentum, or the distraction of London, it may all come down to studying the tape.
“I still question how they are 0-7. The more I look at the film the more I'm like 'Wow, they have some playmakers,'” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. “They can do some things on offense, so we can't get caught up in the wins and loss records.”