5 Biggest Early Storylines for the San Francisco 49ers
It's been a wild beginning for the 2012 San Francisco 49ers, who have gotten off to an undefeated 2-0 start.
There has been a lot to discuss regarding the new-look 49ers and what they've been able to do. They field such a talented team on Sundays that they will be able to compete with every fathomable opponent. The Niners have the experts calling them the most complete team in the NFL, and early favorites to be representing the NFC in this year's Super Bowl.
Things seem to have fallen in place. There is a window of opportunity in front of them to accomplish quite a bit. Although their schedule is challenging, this team is operating at a high level and will be a headache for everyone they face.
Moreover, there have been some interesting storylines revolving around this organization in 2012. Any time a team is grabbing headlines like San Francisco has been, you can bet there are some unique variables involved.
For the top storylines pertaining to the 49ers in 2012, continue through the following slides.
An Unlikely 2-0 Start
Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE
The San Francisco 49ers had one of the more challenging schedules to begin their 2012 campaign.
The NFC West is scheduled to face the NFC North this year, and the 49ers kicked off the year with back-to-back games against the two best teams from that division. The Niners physically handled and secured victories at Lambeau Field versus the Green Bay Packers and at home against the Detroit Lions.
It wasn't that the 49ers couldn't win these games. Even still, had the team escaped with a 1-1 start, the fans probably wouldn't have held it against them.
But this team isn't okay with mediocrity. They took the field expecting to win and imposed their will on Green Bay and Detroit. They fought hard, and the manner in which they won has fueled the buzz around this team.
This week, NFL.com re-released their official power rankings with the 49ers coming out on top at No. 1. To win both of these games out of the gate was a huge statement by San Francisco, so this spot is well-deserved. It's also a good sign that the 49ers knocked off two of their harder opponents, with New England and New Orleans still on the schedule.
Randy Moss Is Not "the Guy"
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
In Weeks 1 and 2, Moss has been limited, playing only 31 and 25 percent of offensive downs against Green Bay and Detroit, respectively. In two games as a situational player, he's accumulated five receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown.
He's been a successful chain-mover and decoy when asked to do both for the 49ers. However, we're seeing significantly more of the other receivers. Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams have been featured, and the Niners have been using their tight ends and backs quite a bit as well.
For the first time in his illustrious career, Moss is not "the guy" for his team.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh on Randy Moss:
"Nobody around here ever gets caught up with ‘the guy' terminology. It's about us. It's about the team. And there's no evidence that he's concerned about having ‘the guy' tag. He knows football. He knows that the team that plays best is going to win the game. And he's been about that."
There is a concern that Moss might not be thrilled with watching most of the game from the sidelines, since he's been notorious for wanting the ball in his hands.
On the other hand, there is not a tremendous weight on his shoulders to perform and win games for his team. Moss, 35, came in with the understanding that he would have a particular role this season. It's more than likely Harbaugh was up-front with the details.
The 49ers are winning and that's what Moss cares about. Besides, it's still early in the season, so we could still see his role expand or be tailored for certain matchups.
Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
After taking out two of the top offenses from 2011 to start the season, the 49ers defense looks to be in great shape, building off last year's record-setting performance.
They are significantly ahead of where they were at this time last year. In Harbaugh's first year, the Niners played better and better as the season progressed. There is the possibility that happens once again. With a lot of young players contributing on that side of the football, there is room for growth that will come with game-time experience.
Moreover, the front seven has returned, looking as fierce as ever. Aldon Smith's presence as a starter has made this a more potent and balanced group. The second-year linebacker has been working very well in tandem with Justin Smith, as their budding relationship looks extremely promising this year.
Isaac Sopoaga and Ahmad Brooks have also looked exceptional in 2012.
The secondary was tested early in the season and stepped up to the plate. The cornerbacks and safeties did not make mistakes against tough, tough competitors in gunslingers Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
The unit as a whole looks to have more flow. They communicate, have been sound in their assignments, swarm fast to the football and tackle through people. With a lot of youth, the 49ers have a great defense on their hands that looks to be in it for the long-haul.
Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE
49ers quarterback Alex Smith is off to a hot start this season. After two weeks, Smith has thrown 4 touchdowns and no interceptions on his way to completing 70-plus percent of his passes for a 115.9 QB rating (second in the NFL).
Smith clearly progressed this offseason, building on his career-best 2011 campaign. He has been in total command of the offense, executing drives, reading defenses, changing plays and distributing the ball very well.
His mechanics have improved, and he's looked unshakeable on game day.
Once upon a time, Alex Smith had No. 1-overall potential. With a resurrected career on a steep upward spike, one has to wonder what Smith's limits are. At this point, he looks more than capable of leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl in 2012.
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Young Players Contributing
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
For one of the better teams in the league, San Francisco sure depends on a lot of contributions from their younger players. They have starters who aren't that far removed from high school and elite backups who are still learning the nuances of the league.
The 49ers have three starting offensive linemen who are 25 years old or younger.
Their No. 1 wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, is one of the team's younger players at only 25. NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, though already established, are very early in their pro careers.
But regardless of their age or experience, a dozen of San Francisco's 53 players have stepped up to help this team win football games. This is a reflection of the organization's ability to evaluate and bring in talent.
The Notables from the 25-and-Under Club
*Anthony Davis, RT (22)
*Aldon Smith, OLB (22)
Chris Culliver, CB (24)
Kendall Hunter, RB (24)
*NaVorro Bowman, ILB (24)
Kyle Williams, WR (24)
Perrish Cox, CB (25)
*Mike Iupati, LG (25)
Ricky Jean-Francois, DT (25)
*Michael Crabtree, WR (25)
*Alex Boone, RG (25)
*Bruce Miller, FB (25)