Training Camp opens in two and a half weeks, so it’s time to lace up our cleats and get down to the business of explaining to Jim Harbaugh just what he needs to do this year to please us.
With nothing much to go on, thanks to the lockout, 49er fans have been forced to create their own image of how the team will look this coming season. When it became obvious that Alex Smith would be returning for yet another year, many fans experienced a brain-lock which obliterated any ability to imagine an offense all that much different than the one we have seen for the past two years. This despite the fact that new HC Jim Harbaugh is well regarded as an offensive innovator and game strategist. Terms not applicable at all to the previous HC regime, under which the entire team toiled so ingloriously.
On defense, it is pretty much taken for granted that Abrayo Franklin is not going to be re-signed and that Isaac Sopoagna will be replacing him as the nose tackle. There’s a chance Dashon Goldson will not return, and neither will Manny Lawson. So long fellas, have a nice career against everybody but the 49ers. Other than that, no one knows what to expect from new DC Vic Fangio, except some form of aggressiveness.
This site sees it as a given that the 49er offense will be vastly improved this season. There was some debate last year about who was most to blame for the dull and predictable offense — Jimmy Raye or Mike Singletary. But Singletary put an end to the discussion with his infamous miked up instructions to Mike Johnson, Raye’s successor at OC, to make sure he ran the ball more, despite the fact the passing game was torching the Seahawks. This sort of idiot interference will not be occurring this year. And the team will have game plans that will take more than ten minutes for opposing defensive coordinators to prepare against.
There is just no way the offense will not be improved, both in production and watchability. How much it will be improved is the only question. Last year, the offense ranked 24th in the NFL. This is somewhat a tribute to the players’ skills, because the game plans and offensive philosophy had to be ranked 32nd and dead solid last.
How well the team fares will once again greatly depend on the quality of the defense. Last year’s defense was ranked 16th in the NFL, 6th against the run and 24th against the pass. The pass defense allowed opposing QBs an amazing quarterback rating of 90! That sort of QB rating will win more often than not in the NFL, and the defense proved it last year by regularly being unable to hold the few late leads the team provided it or to stop the opposing team from a game ending run out of the clock. Good QBs generally torched the defense and the only victories of the year came on two Hail Mary passes, three wallopings, and a formulaic defeat of the Raiders.
Needless to say, if the pass defense does not improve, this team will not win consistently. The team gets somewhat of a break from the 2011 schedule, which features games against only three elite type QBs (Roethlisberger, Romo, and Vick). Even so, a porous pass defense will generally get you beat in the fourth quarter of any competitive game, and it’s doubtful the offense will be improved so greatly as to provide large enough leads to compensate.
All of which makes the brief and frenzied free agency period, which should occur next week or soon after, pivotal to the 49ers’ prospects this year. Acquiring a top tier cornerback is almost a must if the team is going to have a chance to be a serious contender. Failure to get one would have to reflect poorly on GM Trent Baalke.