5 Unanswered Questions for San Francisco 49ers After Week 1
NFL Week 1 is in the books and it feels pretty darn good to have football back in our lives.
The San Francisco 49ers kicked off the 2012 season in a big way by knocking off the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers at Lambeau. Sunday's game marked the official unveiling of the 49ers new-look offense, Randy Moss and the continuance of last year's dominant defense.
There were a number of questions heading into this season, many of which had us scratching our heads. Some of the questions grew into concerns but head coach Jim Harbaugh is a man with a vision. Like Ray Lewis once said, "It's rough beating men who see something."
Deemed title contenders in the offseason, the 49ers stepped up not only to prove they were worthy of the consideration but also to show they should be favorites.
After a hard-fought statement game on the road, questions were answered and concerns were alleviated.
Can San Francisco's Offensive Line Hold Up?
On Sunday, the 49ers allowed four sacks. Although Alex Smith was able to maintain possession of the football, next time he might not be so lucky.
For a football team that so values ball control and winning the turnover margin, they allow an awful lot of sacks. In the NFL, falling victim to the strip-sack is a communal way teams surrender the football to the defense.
As Clay Matthews was throwing Joe Staley to the side and getting after Smith, the concern grew that one of those times the 49ers quarterback might cough up the football. Staley was a Pro Bowl tackle in 2011 but did not play like one against the Packers blitz—he's better than that.
This offseason, there was worry regarding the right side of the offensive line. Anthony Davis and Alex Boone together are fairly young and not quite as experienced as you'd like them to be but both of them looked good in Week 1.
It was Staley who had breakdowns against the blitz.
The 49ers will see a number of elite pass rushers in 2012: Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, Cameron Wake, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jason Pierre-Paul, Chris Long and Calais Campbell, to name a few. The 49ers offensive line will be greatly tested on their aspiring run to a Super Bowl.
I think Staley, and the offensive line as a whole, will grow stronger as the season progresses. It's feasible that they have some rougher games down the road, but over the course of the season, this offensive line can be trusted to keep Smith upright.
Is the Addition of Randy Moss a Game-Changer?
In 2011, the San Francisco 49ers were inches away from their first Super Bowl appearance in nearly two decades. They had a championship-caliber defense in position but their offense lacked the explosiveness and big-play ability necessary in the passing game.
In an attempt to upgrade, the 49ers added some playmaking pass-catchers, including the great Randy Moss.
In his regular season debut with San Francisco, Moss found the end zone, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown grab against Green Bay. He totaled four catches on the day as quarterback Alex Smith went on to complete 76.9 percent of his passes.
The 49ers quarterback was finding his receivers, completing 15-of-20 passes to wideouts.
With Randy Moss in place, the receiving corps looks complete. At age 35, he still poses the deep threat, dictates coverages and wins his matchups. Using him as a situational player allows this offense to be methodical and setup their shots.
His presence helps complete this new-look offense which put up 30 points in their season opener. An offense that was 26th in the league last year statistically, they out-shined Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on their home turf. One could argue that that feat might not have been accomplished without Moss.
It's safe to assume that Moss will be an impact player for the 49ers in 2012.
Can the 49ers Defense Defy the History Books?
A very sizable majority expected a regression from the 49ers defense because, statistically speaking, a repeat is not in their favor.
However, two main facts need to be taken into consideration: First, the 49ers returned all eleven starters on defense. Second, the '11 Niners defense was installed in a shortened league year.
This offseason, the unit has had time to grow, add pieces and develop an understanding of the system, including learning the nuances of each other's positions. And since they were not looking to add starters, San Francisco added depth throughout their defensive infrastructure.
The Niners have also promoted Aldon Smith to the starting outside linebacker position. This could be a game-changer for San Francisco and potentially solidify a possibly historic linebacking corps. Aaron Rodgers could not engineer one drive without Smith being a factor. On the Packers' first possession, Rodgers was flushed out and rundown by Smith, marking his first sack of the 2012 season.
Not to mention, the 49ers entire secondary played phenomenal football in Week 1.
This unit is made up of mostly All-Pros and Pro Bowlers with at least three potential candidates for defensive MVP in 2012. What the history books also show is that great defenses can last (Steelers, Bears, Ravens) and the 49ers have a great defense.
Can Alex Smith Win a Super Bowl?
Despite how good this team looks on the field, in major statistical categories or even in the win-loss column, there seems to be an infinite population of naysayers who have one argument: Alex Smith is not an elite quarterback.
Maybe that's true, but my response is he is the right quarterback.
As a starter under Jim Harbaugh—including the regular season and postseason—Smith has a 15-4 record. In his past three games, he has downright outplayed two of the top three elite quarterbacks in this league in Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
In this new regime, he is a winning quarterback who can execute this offense to a tee. He puts the 49ers in the right positions and he has grown in his role as a field general. As an individual, Smith has taken massive strides and the organization has been building around him.
After a busy offseason, the 49ers now have depth beyond belief on the offensive side of the ball. Not only can Smith execute this offense, but now he also has the playmakers in place to optimize the production of the playbook.
By the time it's midseason, there should be a different general perception of Alex Smith.
Has San Francisco's Secondary Caught Up to It's Front Seven?
In the previous decade, the 49ers defensive secondary had consistently been one of the worst in the league. Although we liked guys like Ahmed Plummer and Tony Parrish, the overall performance by the groups in that era were just tumultuous.
For years, the Niners were cast out as the whipping post for SportsCenter's Top 10. Not a week went by where there wasn't a big play shown against a 49ers busted coverage. Since this lasted until 2010, this changing of the landscape is fairly new.
San Francisco is now boasting a No. 1 defense that is strong throughout.
In the span of one offseason, Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh corrected the long-plagued Niners secondary with some promotions, firings and new signings. Since Harbaugh has been here, the Niners have said goodbye to Nate Clements, Shawntae Spencer, Taylor Mays and Reggie Smith.
They've also said hello to Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. In addition to that, they retained Dashon Goldson and bumped Tarell Brown up the depth chart. Voila! A shiny new secondary.
This group is very deep and very talented. In perhaps the challenge of all challenges for a secondary unit, they had to take on Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field in Week 1—and they succeeded. They held the league's reigning-MVP to two touchdowns, taking away his receivers all day and coming away with a win.
This group closes fast, tackles well, has good ball awareness and rarely blunders an assignment. Collectively, they are a cohesive unit that is playing at a very high level.