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Patrick Willis leads the 49ers' defense.
The San Francisco 49ers had the second-ranked defense in terms of points allowed in 2011. The gave up just 229 points last year, an average of only 14.3 per game. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers were better with an average of 14.2.
The 49ers will be hard pressed to accomplish this low scoring average again in 2012, as they will face some of the top quarterbacks and scoring offenses in the NFL. The 49ers will face a very stern test on opening night, when they travel to Green Bay to play the Packers and their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
In addition, the 49ers must play Matthew Stafford and the Lions, Drew Brees and the Saints, Eli Manning and the Giants and Tom Brady and the Patriots. All of these teams have prestigious passing offenses and can put up points in a hurry.
The 49ers defense was number one against the run last year, allowing an average of only 77.2 yards per game on the ground. I fully expect them to continue to be very strong against the run.
The 49ers' front seven, anchored by defensive end Justin Smith and linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman should continue to be stout against the run. Where the 49ers have shown some signs of vulnerability is in the passing game.
The 49ers have cornerbacks Carlos Rogers—who was torched by Victor Cruz in the first half of the NFC title game—and a vastly improved Tarell Brown. Backing them up are nickelback Chris Culliver and dimeback Perrish Cox. Cox steps in ahead of Tremaine Brock, which should be a big improvement.
The safeties are Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. Both are solid players, but there is very little experience backing up these two. Both rookie Trenton Robinson and C.J. Spillman, who was mostly a special teams player, are unproven. This could be a problem if anything should happen to Goldson or Whitner.
A big help to the 49ers' defense could be their offense. If Alex Smith and company are more productive, can sustain more drives and score more points, that would be a huge benefit to the 49ers' defense, by keeping them off the field and making opposing offenses more one dimensional.