Although the football season is definitely farther away then we might all be hoping, it is never too early to begin the process of speculating. While we Niner faithful have gone several years without the taste of the postseason, several factors indicate that this is the year we are poised to pounce on the division and make our mark on the NFL postseason. While many factors contribute to a well oiled and successful NFL football team, a selective few can be highlighted that will send the 49ers over the edge and into the postseason. From 6-1, here are 6 big reasons the Niners are ready for success.
While we all might hate to admit it, (or are stoked to admit it), one of the greatest reasons why the Niners are poised to take the NFC West is due to one of the greatest passers of all time leaving a pass first team. And replacing him, an unproven college star who has yet to show any ability to transfer his success to the pro level, Matt Leinart. This is a team who gained 74% of its total yards through the air, who has 2 1000 yard receivers and no 1000 yard rushers.The team who had really maintained a relatively strong stranglehold on the division just entered a phase of uncertainty and vulnerability. While they are showing signs of fading with the loss of the man who brought them greatness, the rest of the division is given the opportunity to seize the reigns of the NFC West.
The men you see above, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, lead a group of offensive weapons that are finally well rounded, deep, and developed. Every Niner fan asked the question last year, "What if Crabtree signed immediately?" in regards to the what we saw in basically half a season without any camp work. The man obviously has the ability to be the playmaker the 49ers widerecieving core missed so badly, and now he has the ability to go to camp and learn the system. He leads a group which also has a maturing Josh Morgan and the ever talented Ted Ginn Jr, sure to complement the abilities of Crabtree. Vernon Davis is coming off a career year which saw him outproduce every tight-end, and every player, in the country with 13 TD receptions and a spot in the Pro Bowl. His production has finally caught up with his talent, and the best is yet to come. The running game is centered by Pro Bowler and 1000 yard rusher Frank Gore, with competent back-ups Glen Coffee and rookie Anthony Dixon. This young, talented group of offensive players will hit their stride, making themselves welcome help for quarterback Alex Smith.
Led by Greg Manusky, the 49ers defense is beginning to personify the smash-mouth D that Mike Singletary used to lead as a linebacker with the Bears. With arguably the best linebacking core in pro football and possibly the best linebacker in Patrick Willis, the backbone is as good as ever. While the secondary needs work, it has only improved with the return of a healthy Nate Clements and the addition of the physical specimen known as Taylor Mays. Regardless of his perceived savvy and football IQ, Taylor Mays is a fast, physical, powerful safety who brings more athleticism into the defensive back core. While such physical gifts cannot be taught, the skills can be, and Singletary knows how to create results from talent, just look what he did to the likes of Vernon Davis, and what he continues to do with Patrick Willis, making him even better. With the defense getting healthier and adding important parts, it should be even better than the one that only gave up 17.6 yards per game (4th overall) and 5 yrds/play (6th overall).
The part of the team that arguably took the most heat last year was the offensive line, and for good reason too. Although they were still able to help Frank Gore to another 1000 yard season running the ball, they also gave up 40 sacks (22nd overall) and 84 QB hits (20th overall). Now one can argue that over 18 of these sacks were on the original starting QB Shaun Hill during the first 4 games, but that shows the true weakness of last years line. When teams spread out the ball and work shotgun like the 49ers did when Alex Smith took the helm, the offensive line can play a little poorer and not give up the sacks. And in order to address these issues on the front line, the Niner front office went out and got OT Anthony Davis (6'5" 323 lbs.) and Mike Iupati (6'5" 331 lbs.) with the 11th and 17th overall picks, respectively. Both of these picks are projected to start and make an immediate impact on the team, boosting the offensive line, and helping out another first rounder in Joe Staley. With three skilled and powerful first round draft picks, the offensive line is beginning to take form.
While many people see football as little more than a barbaric, physical, chaotic sport, the reality is there is an intense chess match going on at all times, where each side plays based on their system. For the better part of the last decade the Niners were without a dependable system, or even a system at all, as the chaotic head coaching of Mike Nolan yielded underachievement and 6 years of different offensive coordinators left the offense and most notably Alex Smith hurt and confused. Now, the strong leadership of Mike Singletary has whipped players into shape (physically and emotionally), and for the first time since 2003 the offensive coordinator will be the same. Similarly, the core players are becoming used to the system, and frankly, used to the NFL, as stars such as Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Alex Smith, Patrick Willis etc. are growing up and starting to flex their muscle. Every team needs a system to succeed, and the 49ers under Mike Singletary have laid the foundation.
Yes, I know, the #1 reason I have listed here for the 49ers possible future success is also the biggest variable in the equation. A man who has always shown dedication to the game through his work ethic, Smith has not emerged as the true talent selected 1st overall in the 2005 draft. However, key signs point to his growth as a player and why he will be able to carry this squad offensively. First, he is coming off of his best year as a pro throwing for 2,350 yrds, 60.5% completion percentage, 18/12 TD/INT and a rating of 81.5. While this is largely average, the reality is that all they need is for Alex Smith to be average to above average. With a compiled record of 5-5 over the season, he was a dropped Vernon David pass away from a win in Week 13 vs. the Seahawks, and 3 points away from pulling off a great 21-0 halftime comeback in week vs. the Texans. Similarly, this is the first time in his professional career he will be working with the same offensive coordinator, and the first year he will be working with a bonefide set of offensive weapons, with the emergence of Vernon Davis and the additions of Crabtree and Ginn Jr. as previously discussed. While many Niners fans are still scared because they know that the season does rest on Smith's shoulders, they should be happy because he is poised to leads this team to the playoffs, and perhaps farther.