It’s time to take a brief break from the Marshawn Lynch hysteria to preview our final team of NFC West, other than our Seahawks. The 49ers are coming off a very surprising season, as they went from mediocrity it 2010 to the NFL championship game in 2011. Now the question is if they can build on that success and take the next step.
Helping out this time is Eric Melendez from Niner Noise.
Biggest Team Need Heading Into Offseason: Starting right guard
Key Free Agents Retained: QB Alex Smith
Key Player Additions: WR Mario Manningham
Key Players Leaving: Right guard Adam Snyder
Quick Thoughts on Draft: Going after WR A.J. Jenkins with the first round pick was a huge surprise as the team has no options at starting guard who have any previous experience as a starter.
Quick Thoughts on 2012 schedule: The 49ers’ secondary will tested often this season. The 49ers will go up against the Packers, Lions, Saints, Giants and Patriots in 2012. All five teams finished in the top-five of passing offense last season.
Most Interesting Roster Battle: Running back. With Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon the 49ers have a crowded backfield. It will be interesting to see who makes the team and who doesn’t, and where they fall on the depth chart.
Biggest Strength Heading Into 2012: Defense. The 49ers were completely dominant in all games last season on defense and will only get better in 2012.
Biggest Weakness Heading Into 2012: Right guard. If the 49ers want to continue their great rushing attack from last season and to improve their passing offense, they need a solid starter at right guard. Right now, there are not many options to be excited about.
Biggest Question Still To Be Answered: When will safety Dashon Goldson sign his contract? Goldson is the 49ers franchise tagged player and so far is holding out for more money than what the 49ers offered him in a multiple year contract.
2012 Prediction: 12-4, NFC West division champions.
I’m not sure where to start on my take on the 49ers. They’re a good team, but they were probably the least impressive 13-3 team I’ve ever seen. They’re bringing back all their talent from last season, but they didn’t make any upgrades and there are a number of warning signs that point to them not being able to match their 2011 success. Throw in that the 49ers were the league’s least-injured team in 2011, and that they’ll like see the other side of that coin in 2012, and they really are a tough team to preview.
Lets start with the positives. Their front 7 is scary. Justin Smith probably should have won the defensive rookie of the year award. He had an amazingly dominant year. That is especially true when you realize that move of Aldon Smith’s 14 sacks came on plays where he ran a stunt with Justin Smith, so essentially Justin Smith took out the blockers so Aldon Smith could come in clean. Justin Smith deserved an assist on almost all of those sacks. oh, and the rest of the front 7 is pretty damn good too.
On offense, the running game looks a lot like Seattle’s. Very solid blocking and a premier running back, and great depth behind him too. Combine a solid running game and a solid front 7 on defense, and you’re likely going to win the time of possession stat in almost every game.
Now for the bad. The secondary is very overrated. None of their 4 starters would start in Seattle. They also just paid a lot of money to keep a very average Rogers at CB, which is never a good idea. (Its the equivalent of the Seahawks giving Marcus Trufant a large contract this offseason. Surprisingly similar players when watching the game film.)
On offense, their WR corps is poor at best. They’re entire passing offense predicated on the fact that Randy Moss will suddenly become productive again, after 2 seasons of looking old. Crabtree is rapidly approaching getting hit with the bust label, and first round draft pick AJ Jenkins has looked so bad in practices so far that team doesn’t expect him to get on the field at all until late in the season.
And finally we come to Alex Smith. Harbaugh managed Smith in the best way possible last season. That is, they essentially removed him from the game plan. That’s the right idea what your QB was one of the worst players at his position in the league for the previous 6 seasons. I just don’t see how they can keep on a lid on this barrel of crap for another 16 games without it exploding all over the field. Especially not after the ego laced drivel that’s come out his mouth this offseason. Expect Smith to lose at least 2 winnable games for the 49ers this season.
One more thing (so I guess my comments on Smith shouldn’t have been preceded by “finally”) Much of the 49ers success was because of their record +28 turnover differential. As I’ve shown statistically on this site before, turnovers are a cruel mistress. Over the past 2 decades, teams that are the best at creating turnovers in any given season, are almost always below average at doing so the next season, even with the same players. The 49ers likely wont be able to depend on turnovers to make up for their other shortcomings again in 2012.
I still expect the 49ers to be good, and most likely win the division, but 10 to 11 wins seems like the max for the talent on their roster.