Last season, the San Francisco 49ers were led to the NFC championship game by a strong defense and average offense. This upcoming season, as the 49ers look to make another run towards a Super Bowl, an offensive improvement is necessary.
That said, quarterback Alex Smith had a resurgence in 2011 that possibly merits his first overall selection. Much credit can be given to first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh.
If the 49ers' success is to continue, though, Smith's passing game will need to be a more integral part of the offense.
The following are pass plays the 49ers should consider using next year for they are not only simple, but also generated success for Smith in 2011.
First and foremost, the 49ers are a running football team.
One advantage of the strong running game is the ability to open up through play-action.
It's no secret the 49ers will run, so why not utilize an occasional play-action pass on 1st-and-10 for an attempt to complete a 50-yard bomb to new addition and jump-ball specialist Randy Moss.
Even if Smith isn't looking that far downfield, play-action can hold linebackers long enough for tight end Vernon Davis to get deeper in his routes.
An important aspect of play-action, though, is to use it sparingly, as it's only effective when the defense takes the bait.
LaMichael James made his college career off being explosive and fast in open space.
If he gets any offensive snaps this season, it should be screens.
Along with James potentially snapping off a big play, screens also help Smith. Completing short throws for big gains does wonders for a quarterback's confidence.
Hopefully, screens are more incorporated in the offense as opposed to being relegated to 3rd-and-long situations.
The 49ers have depth at the receiver position, so any package of four to five receivers can create mismatches for slot receivers.
To exploit this, the 49ers should get their slot receivers streaking down the sideline once the ball is snapped.
Realistically, deep posts or streaks result in a big play once in a blue moon. When it clicks though, it's often a game-changer.
The key in 2012 will be Smith. If he can increase his production slightly, the defense is strong enough to carry the franchise back through the playoffs.