The perception of the San Francisco 49ers has fluctuated violently through the course of the young 2012 NFL season. It started the year off by getting a big win in Green Bay, then came home to defeat the Detroit Lions in prime-time.
In Week 3, San Francisco went to Minnesota and took a loss while scoring just 13 points. The 49ers followed that up with a 34-0 shellacking of the New York Jets in New York and a 45-3 win over the Buffalo Bills at home.
Week 6 included a contest between the 49ers and the New York Giants in San Francisco, where the 49ers were decisively beaten again by a count of 26-3.
Four days later, they came back and beat the Seattle Seahawks by a touchdown.
Not surprisingly, quarterback Alex Smith took care of the ball during the games that the 49ers won. He committed just one total turnover in the 49ers’ five wins. He has multiple turnovers in each game that they have lost this year.
Smith threw an interception and fumbled the football once against the Vikings. He threw three interceptions against the Giants. Those two teams have turned out to have some pretty good defenses.
Whether the 49ers can return to their dominant state of 2011 depends on Smith keeping his turnovers to a minimum like he did last year.
San Francisco is a team that’s built around the running game: It wants to keep the score low by running the ball effectively and stopping its opponents from doing the same. It’s not a team that’s built to play from behind, asking Smith to orchestrate fourth-quarter comebacks on a regular basis.
The 49ers will play at Arizona—another solid defense—next week before they have a bye to address their recent offensive struggles.
There aren’t very many weaker defenses that the 49ers should be up against for the rest of the season. Next up after the bye week for San Francisco are the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Rams (again), Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Seahawks (again) and the Cardinals in Week 17.
Because of that, the 49ers have cause for concern. Smith will have to make ball security an absolute priority for them to experience postseason success this year.
The NFC is very strong. If the 49ers lose more games because their offense can’t maintain control of the ball, they could be extremely disappointed by season’s end. All of their remaining opponents have proven to be adept at taking the ball away.
San Francisco’s defense is certainly skilled enough to keep the team in any game, but the offense has to do its job for concerns about the team to subside.