Today we continue our NFL preview series with two playoff teams from a year ago, The New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers. The preview for the New Orleans Saints appears right below this one on our b log.
Ted Ginn. Had he been healthy enough to play in the NFC Championship game these 49ers and not the NYG would have played in the Super Bowl. Jim Harbaugh had a fantastic rookie season as head coach but if SF does not fumble even once during the return game the season gets even better. SF put major distance between itself and rival NFC West teams in 2011 but it may be that Arizona, St Louis and Seattle will improve off 2011 efforts. Can SF repeat in 2012? This NFL Preview will look back on the magical 2011 49er season as will as look ahead to 2012.
NOTE: I will randomly add other team previews as the days go by, HOWEVER, if any reader of this blog wants to see a preview for a specific team, just LET ME KNOW and I will gladly make it available.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. As always, your comments, questions and/or disagreements are welcome!
Additional Note: This preview includes ratings used for the 2011 draft. A short explanation of these ratings is as follows:
Numerical: The rank of the player for that position. If there are TWO numbers, the first number is the rank for the general position (OL for example) and the 2nd number the rank for the specific position (OT).
* rating: A rating just below those at the position
NR: Not ranked, meaning I do not think that player is draft worthy.
SAN FRANCISCO: 2011 RECORD 13-3 2010 RECORD 2009 6-10 RECORD 8-8 2008 RECORD 7-9
TEAM OVERVIEW: At this point a year ago we said the following: Singletary lost his team, but rest assured, new HC Jim Harbaugh will bring a brand new feeling to Northern California. It will be very interesting to see how 2011 plays out. Although disappointed with the loss to the NYG, SF has to feel great about last season. Losses were to Dallas in OT, to older brother John Harbaugh in the family Thanksgiving game, and by 2 points at Arizona. SF was 2 muffed punts away from the Super Bowl! No, the offense was not close to perfect, but mistakes were left in the locker room and the 49ers made a habit of capitalizing on their opponents’ mistakes. The D, especially the front 7 of the D was rock solid. Year one of the Harbaugh era went just fine. With work still left to be done nothing however is guaranteed for the upcoming season.
KEY STATS: Alex Smith hit 61.3% with a modest 17 TD passes but with just 5 picks. He did take 44 sacks (most in the NFL) as the instructions read do NOT turn the ball over. After courting Peyton Manning, Alex is back and will finally have the same offensive coordinator for a 2nd season! SF won 13 games, but the 3rd down offense was poor at 29.4% and SF had few 1st downs by passing, and just 2,930 total passing yards. WR Crabtree caught 72, but made some route running mistakes and disappeared in some games. SF’s overall D was 4th in the NFL and helped to lead them to an NFL best +28 turnovers. That will be difficult to replicate even though SF is adept at stripping the ball (+10 fumble ratio). The run D was 3.5-77. SF allowed its 1st run TD in game #15. The point D was just >14, 2nd best to Pittsburgh. The pass D% dropped below 60 (57.5%) for the 1st time in many a season. Rookie Alden Smith led SF with 14 of the 49ers 44 sacks. There was mostly good news from special team play. Ginn was great on KR’s and PR’s. His absence in the NFC title game cost SF the title. Punter Lee was perhaps #1 in the NFL, deftly placing punts down while averaging nearly 51 per kick. PK Akers hit a stunning 44 field goals! That is actually NOT good news. 1st, he was just 6-11 from 40-49, but to be fair, a great 7-9 from 50+. 2nd, he was 29-30 from inside 40 yards, including 16-16 under 30 yards. No elite team should be trying 16 kicks inside the 30, and 25 or so inside 36 yards. SF needs to finish drives with TD’s if they are to take the next step. Spread-wise, SF’s only trend is 31-10 as a MNF favorite.
TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: The run D is SF’s major strength. Performance in the red zone was SF’s weakness in ’11. The OL has allowed 183 sacks the past 4 seasons, and 44 last year despite being a run 1st team.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Coming Soon
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES: SF lost WR Morgan and OG Snyder on offense but both were expendable. WR Manningham has #2 WR possibilities, while Randy Moss is a low risk proposition. QB Josh Johnson reunites with his college HC while RB Jacobs fits the SF run system and RB Cartwright adds depth. CB Cox had 9 rookie starts before missing ’11 with legal issues. Reserve CB Madieu Williams and reserve safety Reggie Smith signed elsewhere.
2011 DRAFT REVIEW: The initial Harbaugh draft was a mixed bag. Many below played decent roles as back-ups but may never be starters. The NR rated players performed as we thought. Alden Smith was exceptional. ACE scooped the trade for Kaepernick and his chance to play is likely going to be in ’13. SF lost some LB talent in free agency, but the secondary needed help and got it with CB Rogers (44-6 interceptions) and SS Whitner (62-2). OC Goodwin started in place of the departed Baas.
1-7 DE A. Smith 7-5
Contributed in a hurry with 37 tackles and 14 sacks
2-36 QB Kaepernick 2
Correctly being brought along slowly, with the hopes he unseats Smith in ‘13
3-80 CB Culliver *
Significant nickel action, with a solid 35 tackles
5-115 RB Hunter 10
#2 option at 476-4.2 and 16 receptions
5-163 OT Kilgore NR
As expected, his lack of strength moved him inside, where he sat and learned
6-182 WR R. Johnson 19
Cut in camp
6-190 S C. Jones NR
Used as we expected for special teams (6 tackles)
7-211 LB B. Miller 16
2-time Conf DE POY moved to FB and now is the starter (11 receptions, + blocker)
7-239 OT Person NR
Inactive all year
7-250 CB Holcomb NR
Our 4th NR player, and the 4th to offer nothing (went on IR)
2010 DRAFT REVISITED: SF received high marks for this draft class, but not all the picks worked out. OT Davis and OG Iupati were taken at 11 and 17 in the first round. They both start and will for years, but sacks need to come down. Safety Mays is gone. LB Bowman went from 46 tackles to a team high 143! He’s as good as we thought. RB Dixon moved behind ’11 rookie Hunter to #3 on the depth chart. TE Byham is fine, but not on this team. WR Williams was rated NR but caught 20 passes in ’11. Unfortunately, he was also the return man in the absence of Ginn during the title game. NR CB Adams was cut.
2012 DRAFT NEEDS: SF needs an OG, OC, CB and DB depth, 1 more WR and DL depth. It would not be out of the question to fill most, if not all of these types of needs on draft day. Certainly SF needs to find some pass protectors to help QB Smith.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2012: SF used to trade down more than up, but we suspected that with Harbaugh they would not be afraid to move up to target someone they feel is special. Our scoop of the trade up to get Kaepernick (as predicted in print and on audio cyberspace) may be the 1st example of this.
DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 30, 61, 92. SF has all of their own 7 selections with a pick in each round.
ROUND ONE PREVIEW: The SF draft team is likely to confuse the so-called experts as Harbaugh has a unique way of judging talent. What we didn’t like last year is SF selecting 4 NR players. Even Harbaugh has so far not made our NR rated players any better. The positions most mentioned thus far are OL (Zeitler, Adams) and WR (GT’s Hill). Once again we’d select a draft dropping CB over OL, but would be happy to get the highest rated OL if the top DB’s are gone. 4/13 update: DT is getting a lot of play right now (Still, Reyes). NE drafts 27th and GB drafts 28th. One of both could move back in the draft, so if SF is targeting a specific player or position they need to beware about teams moving ahead of them come draft day.
REST OF THE DRAFT: The secretive Harbaugh (as he proved in the Manning pursuit) hasn’t tipped his hand at all in this draft. We’d like to see SF draft two OL, two DB’s, a WR and a DL. That still leaves another draft choice. The order of when each position is selected should depend on the value (supply and demand) at the time of each pick.