San Francisco 49ersRead the introduction here
Read the Ravens previe here
2011 Record: 13-3
Key Acquisitions: Perrish Cox, Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James, A.J. Jenkins, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss
Key Departures: Josh Morgan, Chilo Rachal, Adam Snyder, Shawntae Spencer, Madieu Williams
The 49ers were so close to making to Super Bowl for the first time since Jerry Rice was running up and down the field. They played a great game against the Saints in the Divisional Round and played a really tough game against the Giants. Jim Harbaugh was able to jump in and flip this franchise around, cementing himself as a top coach in the NFL. The Niners were only 6-10 in 2010, but the former Stanford coach mustered everything that he could out his team, especially Alex Smith. Smith was considered to be a draft bust, and while he didn't put up gaudy numbers, nor was this an offensive juggernaut, he was able to successfully manage games and found ways to not hurt his team. The offense may not have been great overall, but they were situationally good. Let's not forget this defense though. They only allowed 2 rushing touchdowns last year, but none in the first 15 weeks of the season. Taking into consideration this division schedule, this overachieving team will still be good.
I still don't trust Alex Smith. He was so bad for so long, that I don't see how this is sustainable. He was really accurate, having his best completion percentage of his career. I just can't see how a player can be so inconsistent and bad for his whole career and just turn it all around. I realize that NFL coaches have a great effect on their players, but this was an amazing job by Harbaugh. My mistrust of Smith might have a lot to do with my partiality towards his backup Colin Kaepernick. I think he can be a very successful quarterback, so he should be the starter eventually. For the sake of the Bay Area, I hope it's this year.
The 49ers have four legitimate running backs. Frank Gore is obviously still the main guy, though he has always struggled with injuries. He's a very powerful runner when he is on the field. Brandon Jacobs was not very good last year and seemed lost in New York. Considering that he is the fourth best running back on this team, he's fine. Yes, Jacobs is the worst running back of the crew of four. Why do I say that? LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter are better than him. James is a very elusive back who will make a lot of big plays. Once he bursts into the second line of the defense, watch out. Kendall Hunter is the best running back on the team. He has the frame and the running style of Ray Rice, and he might actually be that good. Soon enough, Gore and Jacobs won't be factors on this team. Mark my words.
The wide receivers have definitely improved from last year, even though each one of the receivers will have a much bigger role than they should. Michael Crabtree is still Michael Crabtree, and that's not that good. Mario Manningham isn't as good as you would think. He made a great play in the Super Bowl. He has health problems. and he is pretty inconsistent. A.J. Jenkins was considered by everyone to be a reach at the end of the first round this year, so I'm not sure what to expect from him this year. Then of course there is Randy Moss. I actually liked this signing because it was cheap and he's better than the other options that they have. That has been proved by the fact that he survived the preseason cuts.
The right side of the offense is terrible. Alex Smith will get sacked, a lot. That's terrible because he was the most sacked signal caller in the league. Hopefully when Kaepernick comes in, he can use his running ability to get around it. The left side is alright, and should be the way to go for all runners. It's also good that the QB's blind side has solid protection. The center, Johnathan Goodwin is old and getting pretty bad.
Both rush ends, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are both really good. They were constantly getting a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks. Isaac Sopoaga is a rock in the middle of the line who is very good at stopping the run. This defensive line has quality mix of players.
That can also include Aldon Smith at times, who can play defensive end along with his spot at linebacker. Aldon Smith was not an every down player, which is crazy to think about because he had 14 sacks. At the opposite side of the linebacking corps is Ahmad Brooks, who great at stopping the run. He also rushed the passer pretty well, so he's a very well rounded defensive player. NaVorro Bowman is a tackling machine. He had 140 tackles and 113 of them were solo. Great numbers. Next to him is the best linebacker in the NFL, Patrick Willis. He didn't have his greatest season, so he'll certainly step it up this season. He's not going to have two bad seasons in a row. Bad by his standards, not by everyone else's.
Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown form a pretty good duo at the corner position. Rogers was a good playmaker last year. There is good depth here, because Perrish Cox, Tramaine Brock, and, Chris Culliver are talented cornerbacks in certain packages. Cox is very talented, so if he gets his head straight, he may even become a starter. Dashon Goldson is really overrated, but he's fine. He's a hard hitter, and got his fair share of picks last year, but he tends to be exposed in coverage. He's hit or miss on each play. Donte Whitner is good at stopping the run, but he, like Goldson might have some issues in coverage. The corners will definitely make up for the possible problems at safety.
David Akers was allowed to walk out of Philadelphia for basically no reason. He signed on with the Niners and went on to have the best season in the history of kickers. He set the record for most field goals made in a season, and he was pretty accurate. Then Andy Lee had a very good year himself. He averaged 50.9 yards per punt, good for third on the all time yards per punt list. Amazing years for the kickers on this team. It's outstanding that they both had historic seasons in the same year. Ted Ginn is what makes this special teams unit the best in the NFL. Ginn failed as a wide receiver, but he's an amazing kick returner.
11-5, 1st in NFC West