Entering the 2012 NFL season, the 49ers were looking to upgrade their weakest area, which is the passing game. San Francisco methodically operated throughout the offseason, adding weapons via free agency and the draft. On paper, the Niners' receiving corps is already drastically upgraded, but that's without looking at the intangibles and other variables.
In the following slides, we will analyze and breakdown exactly why the 49ers passing attack will show drastic improvement in 2012. At this point in the offseason, there are already a plethora of reasons to believe San Francisco's aerial attack will be better this coming season.
For the first time in 2012, 49ers veteran quarterback Alex Smith will have a chance to play in the same offensive system from year-to-year. In seven seasons, Smith has had many coordinators with different philosophies, which ultimately stunted any chance at development or growth.
Over the years, Smith has developed into a quick learner, having to absorb and run different offensive systems each season. Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, as well as Roman, Smith should show major individual strides continuing in the same system.
Repetition in the same offensive scheme will equal progress. The fact that 49ers fans can expect Smith to improve given where he left off in 2011 is inspiring in itself.
The 49ers will also be adding new plays to the playbook, so with Smith being able to run a much broader playbook, it will make it tougher on opposing defenses. NFL teams are accustomed to a simplistic 49ers offensive attack, but they will be surprised when it reaches new heights in 2012.
In both free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft, the 49ers have added wide receivers that have the ability to stretch the field.
The two names at the receiver position San Francisco brought in to stretch the field are Randy Moss and A.J. Jenkins. Both players have great down-field speed and the ability to create separation with their extra gears.
In 2011, the 49ers did not have a wide receiver that could stretch defenses, and be that complete threat. Because of his top-flight speed, the 49ers toyed with Ted Ginn Jr. to see what he could bring in that regard, but unreliable hands have kept him as a return specialist.
The 49ers also brought in other guys who could step up in this aspect of the passing attack. Mario Manningham and Chris Owusu can get downfield and make catches for chunk yardage.
So the San Francisco 49ers go from having no deep threats at the wide receiver position, to two, possibly four weapons depending on the final roster. Having players with such a skill set adds a whole new dynamic to an offense that the Niners went without last season.
The 49ers now have a few physical freaks on the offensive side of the football.
Vernon Davis is a 6'3, 250-pounder with soft hands and track speed. For quite a while now, Davis has been the real sole threat within the 49ers passing offense. He is one of those upper echelon players that is a threat on every down because of his physical ability and intangibles.
Davis will be even more of a threat in 2012 now that he is no longer alone.
The 49ers have brought in a future first ballot Hall of Fame wide receiver in Randy Moss. Moss, like Davis, is a complete freak athlete. Most NFL teams don't have two playmakers of this caliber on offense. San Francisco and their brilliant staff is going to have a field day conjuring up misdirection plays, setting up mismatches and toying with defensive backs.
This tandem is going to present an awful lot of problems for the league's safeties, who have had enough difficulty with Davis and Moss separately. The 49ers are going to have schemes that make it easy for these two to get open and make plays. I would bet that often, one will be a diversion for the other.
San Francisco's passing game will also get a boost from an unexpected place: the running back position. The 49ers added another mismatch nightmare in rookie LaMichael James out of the University of Oregon. James will add yet another dimension to the 49ers passing attack with his great receiving skills, speed and home run ability.
What was great about the 49ers this offseason is that they looked to upgrade the total offense, not just one specific area. San Francisco assembled a "full house" of running backs as General Manager Trent Baalke put it. In addition to Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon, the team added LaMichael James, Brandon Jacobs and even Rock Cartwright.
For a team that already averaged 127.8 yards per game (8th), that's quite a bit of added ammunition.
The 49ers running game will now have more emphasis on an attack-by-committee rather than Gore as the premier back like we've seen in the past. This will keep the backs healthy, fresh and more threatening to rip off a run.
With the 49ers ground game becoming more potent in 2012, the passing attack will see more success. In the red zone, defenses will want to stack the box with Brandon Jacobs standing tall in the backfield or LaMichael James hidden behind the offensive line. This will open things up for the receivers who will be facing a less dense secondary.
And it will work that way at every yard-line on the field, because the 49ers ground game will be that good. With the always-dominant threat of the run, the receivers should have some help.
The team once loaded with a bunch of No. 2 receivers pretending to be No. 1's, now has them in their proper role as slot guys, chain movers and underneath receivers. San Francisco will field three players who could be outstanding in their new role.
Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams will be the guys making clutch grabs that keeps the 49ers offense on the field. All of them will benefit from having newcomers Moss and Jenkins on the roster, because they will be placed where their particular skill set can be utilized best.
They will also command the attention of lesser cornerbacks, who will likely be outmatched. Not only can all three of these guys catch, but they have toughness when it comes to yards after the catch.
The ability for them to make a play with the football after they have possession will be valuable to the 49ers. Alex Smith will have Manningham, Crabtree and Williams as the alternates when the primary is covered. Smith will be able to go short with the football and still be able to see some yardage because his receiver will be able to make a play after the catch.
These guys will be able to make sure the Niners always have a shot to gain yardage on a passing play.
Alex Smith should be jumping for joy with the weapons his front office has surrounded him with. Unlike the previous coaching staffs, Harbaugh's regime has provided Smith with the tools and the environment to make the 49ers a threat to pass the ball.
For a passing offense that ranked 29th in the league in 2011 with a lousy 183.1 yards per game, they will look to make a jump on the stats chart in 2012.
Smith will continue to be protective of the football, but this time around there will be more opportunities to make plays. When Smith is behind center, he will literally be surrounded by playmakers who will make his job that much easier.
Between the added firepower, continuity in the offensive system, expanding the playbook and fielding a potentially top-3 rushing attack in 2012, the 49ers passing offense will thrive and reach levels it hasn't in a decade.