Thursday, August 5, 2010

2010 Preview: San Francisco 49ers

2009 Record: 8-8

2009 Rankings:
Total Offense - 27
Run Offense - 25
Pass Offense - 22
Scoring Offense - 18
Total Defense - 15
Run Defense - 6
Pass Defense - 21
Scoring Defense - 4

This is a team that has been "on the verge" for the past few seasons. With a defense this good, a mediocre offense could very well carry them to a division title in 2010. While Frank Gore remains an anchor in the backfield, he will be running behind an improved line featuring two first round picks: Anthony Davis (T-Rutgers) and Mike Iupati (G-Idaho). The 49ers had success on the ground last year, but their inability to get first downs (29th in the league) forced their defense into extended periods of service. Due to this, their defense was on the field for 111 more snaps than their offense.

To define this team in 5 words it would be: Defensive inconsistency and Offensive inability. The defense gave up over 300 yards 9 times, and the 49ers went an ugly 2-7 in those games. By contrast, the 49ers were 6-0 in games when holding opponents to under 10 points. Their offense was able to put up at least 10 points in each game, but only broke 28 twice, both against the lowly Rams.

However, with the Quarterback "controversy" finally out of their system and Alex Smith as the clear starter going into camp, the 49ers should have a more consistent offense this season. Look for them to continue to lean on Frank Gore and Glenn Coffee as a strong 1-2 punch out of the backfield. The improved O-line should bolster the run game and keep the offense on the field longer this season. On the outside, Michael Crabtree will finally go through a training camp with the team and should develop into a solid outside receiver. We still feel like he holds the ball too far away from his body when he runs with it, but you really can't doubt the kids ability to make plays. The 49ers acquired first round flop Ted Ginn, Jr from Miami to improve their return game. Ginn could fill in as a Devin Hester-type receiver, using his speed to burn up the edges, but he is not a #1 or #2-caliber receiver.

The 49ers defense doesn't have a lot of big names on it, outside of ILB Patrick Willis and CB Nate Clements, but they are stacked with solid all around players. OLB Manny Lawson led the team with 6 1/2 sacks last season, more than he had in his 3-year career up to that point. At 25, Lawson is entering his prime, and should have an even better year this year. The team needed some help at safety, and drafted Taylor Mays from USC to help in that department. We were never big fans of Mays, and he has a lot to improve in his game before becoming an NFL safety, namely his coverage skills. Willis and Clements are obviously Pro Bowl-caliber players and the anchors of this defense. Willis very well may be the best inside linebacker in the game right now.

So what will it take for the 49ers to finally get over the hump? Well, Kurt Warner retiring certainly didn't hurt. Even though they beat the snot out of Arizona in their two meetings last season, the 49ers have been plagued by inconsistency on both sides of the ball. The improved offensive line will help keep their defense off the field, and in the worst division in football (which we firmly believe can be won with 9 wins), the 49ers should be considered favorites. They retained more of their key starters from last year than Arizona and are more talented than Seattle or St Louis. If San Francisco is going to win this division, they have to improve their woeful 2-6 road record from 2009. Their schedule doesn't set up well for a bad road team, with 3 of their first 4 and 4 of their last 6 games away from home. However, they do get to play the AFC West, meaning they have 8 games against teams that will probably be at or below .500 (Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay).

Ian's Prediction: 9-7

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