Many of you San Francisco 49ers fans are wondering that question, and I’m here with the answers. After finishing 8-8 in 2009, the 49ers are destined to win the NFC West and make their run in the playoffs
Led by head coach Mike Singletary, they are disciplined and focused, as well as ready to start the train bound for the Super Bowl. But how are they going to do it? What makes Coach Singletary think that he has what it takes to lead a team that is two years removed from a 5-11 record to the Super Bowl?
If you know anything about Coach Mike Singletary, or Iron Mike, then you know that his primary focus with himself and his team is discipline. Most of us know about the Vernon Davis incident in which Singletary sent him to the locker room after he cost his team 15 yards for hitting Brian Russell in the facemask.
Coach had a press conference in which he called Davis out, and since then, Davis has been a team player, and has been named a team captain. That’s impressive. You can bet that every player in that locker room has the utmost respect for Coach Singletary, and that’s one big step in building a Championship team.
Davis finished 2009 with the fifth most receptions and yards among tight ends, and was the league leader in touchdowns among tight ends with 13.
I’d say that he’s got his head on straight.
But it’s more than just great coaching that gets you to the Super Bowl. You have to have your offense on the same page, and your defense needs to shut down opponents.
Starting offensively, quarterback Alex Smith showed in 2009 that he has the tools to become a big time quarterback in this league. Smith came in after the bye in Week 7 and took over. He went 5-6 in those games, but they played five of those six losses close; They lost to the Colts, Packers, Texans, Titans, and Seahawks by no more than a touchdown.
If Smith wants to improve, then he’s going to need to cut back on the turnovers. He threw nine of his 12 interceptions in those six losses, compared to just three in the five wins. That’s the stat to really look out for. Some of those interceptions were forced because the defense was getting pressure on him. That problem looks to be solved with the additions of Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
The addition of those two lineman doesn’t just help Smith, however, it helps the running game. Frank Gore seems to be getting stronger each year. He had a career-high ten touchdowns in 2009, and rushed for 4.9 yards per carry. A successful running game is going to take the pressure off of Smith as it forces the defense to put an extra man in the box. A smart quarterback exposes that every time, and Smith is very smart.
Anthony Dixon moves in as the No. 2 running back after Alabama product Glen Coffee announced an usual retirement earlier in the offseason. Dixon is a hard runner who can catch the ball out of the backfield. The 49ers running game will be one of the best in the league in 2010. Add in Brian Westbrook, who could see some snaps, and you have a recipe for rushing success.
The wide receiver corps is what really looks to be stepping up as Michael Crabtree, the team's 2009 first-round draft pick finished the season with a bang. Starting in Week 7 (like Smith), Crabtree finished the season with 48 catches and 625 yards, but just two touchdowns. Only a rookie, he averaged 13 yards per catch and showed his ability to get yardage after the catch. Being another year experienced, he’s only going to improve, and he will be Smith’s No. 1 target.
The emergence of Crabtree only helped tight end Vernon Davis, who we touched on above. Crabtree as a down field threat only makes Davis that much more lethal when it comes to finding holes in the middle of the field. Davis’s after the catch ability makes him a top tight end in the league, and he will have a similar season in 2010.
Opposite Crabtree is Morgan, and Ted Ginn Jr. will play in the slot. There’s a lot of talent in the receiving corps and if the 49ers are going to put points on the board, it’s going to be by protecting Alex Smith, opening up holes, and limiting turnovers.
On the opposite spectrum, we have the defense, which was one of the best in 2009. They averaged just 17.6 points per game, which is good for fourth best in 2009. Leading this complex 3-4 defense is non-other than All-Pro Patrick Willis, who is arguably the best inside linebacker in the league.
Next to Willis is Takeo Spikes, who is a seasoned veteran and is still showing that he can make plays against the run. The 49ers have been expecting outside linebacker Manny Lawson to break out, and he had 6.5 sacks last season, which is a career high. With a defensive line that’s successful, Lawson could hit 10+ in 2010. He needs to work on his coverage ability a bit more, however.
Isaac Sopoaga, Aubrayo Franklin, and Justin Smith man the defensive line and have done an exceptional job of taking up space so that the linebackers can make plays, which is a big part of the 3-4. With more pressure on the quarterback, the 49ers secondary will make more plays and be able to prevent big plays on offense.
Currently, the secondary is made up of veteran Nate Clements, Michael Lewis, Dashon Goldson, and Shawntae Spencer. The addition of Taylor Mays in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft is looking to be huge, however. Mays looks to take over for Lewis eventually, and will see plenty of time this year. Reggie Smith is currently eying Goldson's spot as well, and could take it over at some point in the season. Tarell Brown is also on the rise as he looks to lock down the nickel back spot over Will James.
Defensively, the plan is simple: Stop the run and rush the passer. If these two things happen, then the defense will shut down opposing offenses. Without pressure on the quarterback, the secondary has to cover receivers for five and six seconds, which isn’t easy, especially with the newer rules regarding no touching past the five-yard mark.
The 49ers also need to get the opposing offense off the field a bit quicker, limiting first downs by creating multiple 3-and-outs per game. Possession often wins game, and they split that right down the middle with teams last year.
Overall, this team is very talented. Alex Smith has quite a bit of potential, and the offense can score points. We saw it last season. This could be the year for the 49ers as they have one of the easier schedules in the league. They hung in there with teams like the Packers, Colts, Titans, and Eagles last season, and there’s no reason why they can’t do it again. Look for a big season from the young, but talented San Francisco 49ers squad.