2010 NFL Preview: San Francisco 49ers

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Between now and the September 9th season kick-off, Hank Koebler, IV will be previewing all the NFL teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, division): 8-8, 5-1
Division finish: 2nd NFC West
Offensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 18th, 27th, 22nd, 25th
Defensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 4th, 15th, 21st, 6th

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Frank Gore, 1,120 yards, 10 TD; Glen Coffee, 226 yards, 1 TD
Passing: Alex Smith, 2,350 yards, 18 TD, 12 INT
Receiving: Vernon Davis, 965 yards, 13 TD; Michael Crabtree, 625 yards, 2 TD
Tackles: Patrick Willis, 114 total tackles, Dashon Goldson, 76 total tackles
Sacks: Manny Lawson, 6.5 total tackles; Justin Smith, 6.0 sacks, Parys Haralson, 5.0 sacks
Interceptions: Dashon Goldson, 4 INT, 0 TD; Dre’ Bly, 3 INT, 0 TD; Patrick Willis, 3 INT, 1 TD

2010 Season Outlook

(* denotes division game)


Key Matchups

September 12 at Seattle: The 49ers narrowly missed the playoffs last year with an 8-8 record, but in all actuality, they owned the division, as they were 5-1 in the NFC West. For the 49ers to improve on their record, it is crucial that they maintain this divisional dominance. Seattle has worked hard to improve their passing attack and increase the potency of Matt Hasselbeck’s weapons. The 49ers have also gotten better through the air, but they have a strong running game to complicate it. For that reason, it’s likely that the 49ers have the edge in this game.

October 3 at Atlanta: The 49ers and the Falcons will square off in the Georgia dome, and both teams are going to be similar to each other on offense. While the 49ers have a better receiving corps and a slightly better offensive line than the Falcons, Atlanta has a better backfield, including the quarterback position, so the offenses should be about even with each other in this matchup. On defense, the 49ers play a 3-4 and the Falcons play a 4-3. The Falcons’ front seven and the 49ers’ front seven are close in their level of play, but the Falcons’ defensive backfield is way better than the 49ers’ last line of defense.

January 2 vs. Arizona: At this point, the Cardinals’ transition into a run-first team will be nearly complete, and they will have learned how to best compensate for the loss of several key players. If the division race is close at this point in the season, this final regular-season game could decide the divisional race.

Key Losses

Walt Harris, CB; Dre’ Bly, CB

Key Returning Players

Frank Gore, RB; Michael Crabtree, WR

Key Draft Picks

Anthony Davis, OT; Mike Iupati, OG

Key Free Agent Signings


Key Acquisitions via Trade

Bobby Carpenter, LB

Offensive Overview

The 49ers have really started to put together all the necessary pieces for an extremely effective offense, but they still need to gel a little bit before they're able to move the chains with consistency. Because of running back Frank Gore's combination of speed and power, as well as the offensive line's excellent run-blocking, the run game was the center of San Francisco's offense, and they had the capability to establish a strong play-action passing attack. Instead, 250 of the team's 372 passing plays came from the shotgun, where there was little running threat, so their passing game wasn't as effective as it could have been. Gore was extremely productive, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Primary backup running back Glen Coffee retired abruptly this offseason, heading into only his second season, so depth behind Gore was improved by the signing of Brian Westbrok.

Last year, the offensive line played its best run-blocking on the left side, but struggled in pass protection from that side. On the other hand, the right side of the offensive line was the line's bright spot in pass protection, but had minor issues in run-blocking. San Francisco decided to revamp the line in the line in the draft, aggressively selecting tackle Anthony Davis and guard Mile Iupati in the first round. The sooner Davis is ready to play left tackle and Iupati is ready to play right guard, the sooner the 49ers' line will look more like the impenetrable wall head coach Mike Singletary wants it to be.

While the running attack will be the centerpiece of the offense, the 49ers' receivers are great complements to each other. Josh Morgan isn't the fastest receiver out there, but he is a good possession receiver who can make clutch catches in third-down situations. Michael Crabtree played like a seasoned veteran in his rookie year, despite missing his entire offseason and multiple games due to a holdout. He plays like a slightly faster version of the Texans' Andre Johnson, a receiver who makes tacklers miss and picks up huge chunks of yardage after the catch. This offseason the 49ers added former Dolphin Ted Ginn, Jr. While Ginn never lived up to expectations in Miami after being drafted with the seventh overall pick, and he doesn't particularly run routes well or have great hands, his blazing speed means defenses can't just ignore him, and they always have to respect his capability to burn them deep from the slot.

Most important Quarterback Alex Smith has the talent around him that will likely allow him to develop into the player the 49ers expected him to be when they drafted him with the first overall pick five years ago. He is capable of throwing with good accuracy and making smart decisions, but when he lets the pass rush affect him mentally, he relies too heavily on his checkdown options and doesn't set his feet properly. If the 49ers can get a strong run game to be the foundation of their offense, Smith can be very effective in play-action passing situations, which is all San Francisco needs in order to be maintain a productive offense.

Defensive Overview

The front of this defense is fairly solid, but the back end is where the weaknesses are. Justin Smith combines strength and power to make big plays from the defensive end position, but offenses cant afford do double-team him due to the presence of nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. Defensive end Isaac Sopoaga isn't a standout player, but good enough to help clog the opponent's offensive line. While much has been made of the trade of defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer, the fact of the matter is he had 12 tackles last year and wasn’t going to see much playing time this year.

Third-round rookie Navarro Bowman will likely get some playing time behind veteran Takeo Spikes,which will ease the 49ers' transition at linebacker as Spikes approaches the latter stages of his career. Outside backers Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson are speed guys whose strengths are pass coverage and getting to the outside on run plays, but don't excel in pass rushing. Ahmad Brooks comes into games in pass-rushing situations only, and isn't an every-down linebacker. As a whole, the linebackers fill gaps quickly and are good tacklers.

Free safety Dashon Goldson is a good tackler, but isn't very good at putting himself in position to make plays in zone coverage. It is possible that rookie draft pick Taylor Mays will push him for a starting job. Strong safety Michael Lewis is best suited to play in the box and isn't the best in pass coverage. Cornerback Shawntae Spencer was impressive, winning the starting cornerback job in 2009 after coming back from an ACL injury that ended his 2008 season, and he will likely be even better this year now that he's fully healed. Number two cornerback Nate Clements has concerns with injuries, and he struggles against receivers who can change direction quickly. Playing in the same division as the Cardinals makes it very likely that this weakness will be brutally exploited by Larry Fitzgerald twice per year. Corners Dre' Bly and Walt Harris left San Francisco in free agency, so the 49ers are severely lacking depth in the secondary.

Special Teams Overview

The 49ers were pretty good in kickoff coverage, ranking 13th in average kickoff distance and impressively ranking 10th-best in kickoff distance allowed. In punt coverage, they didn’t fare so well, ranking 14th-best in average punt return distance allowed despite ranking second-best in average punt distance.

San Francisco was absolutely horrendous in the punt return game, averaging 4.4 yards per return. Ted Ginn might be used to remedy that, as his speed and change of direction skills would make him a natural punt returner. The 49ers are set at kickoff returner, as Josh Morgan averaged 28.2 yards per return, and Michael Robinson averaged 23.0 yards per return.

Kicker Joe Nedney made 17 of 21 field goal attempts last year, an 81 percent mark that is close to his 80.1 percent career rate. However, it should be noted that outside of the 40-yard line his production drops off, as he routinely makes only around two-thirds of his attempts from beyond that mark.

Head Coach: Mike Singletary

Singletary is a vocal, fiery ex-player who the team rallies around and respects. He has shaped the 49ers in his image, and they have become much tougher team that is always prepared for Sunday. It is quite possible that by the time he leaves the 49ers many years down the road, he will be remembered even more for his coaching than for his phenomenal years as a player.

Top 2011 Free Agents

Vernon Davis, TE; Manny Lawson, LB; Takeo Spikes, LB; Dashon Goldson, FS

Season Prediction

1st NFC West

The Cardinals are coping with the loss of Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, and Karlos Dansby. The Seahawks are completely in transition and adjusting to a new coach. The Rams are… the Rams. So by process of elimination, the 49ers, who are the only team in the division to get better this offseason, are the favorites to win the division. - Hank Koebler, IV

Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.


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