Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dropping Trou: San Francisco 49ers Season Preview

2008 Record: 7-9

We were going to wait to write this preview until Crabtree signed, but at this point, who knows when that is going to happen. Too bad the kid has his cousin representing him, because if he had any sense of history with what happens when wide receivers take a year off (see: Mike Williams), he would know he's better off signing. And honestly, what does he expect is going to happen if he holds out? Does he think a team will take him higher next year, with the accumulated risk that he might hold out again? And there any real difference in 8-figure salaries?

But let's not focus on the maybes here. Mike Martz and his pass-happy offense is gone. This means that we'll be getting a heavy dose of the running game with Frank Gore and rookie Glenn Coffee. Gore is a solid back, and should flourish in a run-heavy offense. Coffee is a bruiser and will be a nice compliment to Gore.

The real story with San Francisco's offense is the quarterback battle. Former #1 overall pick Alex Smith still hasn't been able to prove himself as an NFL passer and is approaching "bust" level. Shaun Hill played well last season, posting a 5-3 record. Hill didn't put up great numbers last year, but when your leading receivers are Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson, it's not like he's working with Jerry Rice and John Taylor.

San Francisco hasn't done much to improve the offense in the offseason, besides the addition of Coffee (and maybe Crabtree). They did bring in oft-injured tackle Marvel Smith from the Steelers, but one has to wonder how long he can hold up. Vernon Davis was a first round pick at tight end, but he hasn't done much to fulfill his potential either. All in all, San Francisco's 23rd ranked offense will be much the same as it was last year, but with less passing.

On defense, the team hasn't changed much. Pro Bowler Patrick Willis will team with Takeo Spikes to form a decent tandem at ILB. San Fran had the league's 13th ranked rushing defense last season (surprised? we were too), and the league's 20th ranked passing defense (despite having Nate Clements and Walt Harris at corner). Harris has been replaced by Dre Bly, and strong safety Michael Lewis, who was second on the team in tackles last season, returns to his role.

Right end Justin Smith is the anchor on the D-line and finished second on the team in sacks with 7. Outside linebacker Parys Haralson, a 5th round pick in the 2006 draft led the team with 8 sacks last year. On the whole, the 49ers only produced 30 sacks, meaning that Haralson and Smith accounted for half of the team total.

Mike Singletary, who became instantly famous after dropping trou in the locker room, took over for Mike Nolan half way through the year. Singletary produced a 5-4 record as a coach, bringing an air of toughness to the team. Supposedly, the 49ers are also bringing back the cherry red uniforms from the late 80s this season, dispatching of the black-shadow uniforms they have sported since the mid-90s. Not sure if it will work or not, but recollecting past success is usually a good thing in football.

Ian's Prediction: 6-10

Honestly, this team just isn't quite there yet. Their 7 wins last year came against Seattle, St. Louis (twice), Detroit, Buffalo, NY Jets, and Washington. What do all those teams have in common? They were all golfing in January. They have a good running game, but it isn't nearly enough to carry this team. Frank Gore is not, and will never be, Adrian Peterson. The passing game is lacking in receivers and at quarterback. This team may have the desire to win, but with their schedule against the AFC South and NFC North, I don't see them breaking .500. With Detroit and St. Louis to close out the season, they might tack on a few victories at the end and improve their record (like they have the last few years) but they're still far away from catching Arizona as the class of the division. They luck out by getting to play St. Louis and Seattle twice each, but this team remains a year or two away from being a serious contender.

John's Prediction:

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