San Francisco 49ers ticket holders are once again thinking heady thoughts, with dreams of a Super Bowl dancing in their heads. It’s been a fast turnaround under Jim Harbough, with a stunningly good defense leading the way. San Francisco has to be considered a serious contender for the NFC West title again and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see them in an NFC Championship in the 2012 season.
But this is the NFL. Offensive coordinators have had a full offseason to study attacking this defense and they’ll find a way to improve against it. But it’s not going to be easy. The 49ers near the top of the NFL in total yards given up and held the lead in run defense. With a bevy of Pro Bowlers coming back, another year under the system of Vic Fangio, and some rookies coming into their own, the 49ers are going to be a tough nut to crack. Running against them is almost impossible but it has to be done.
The real breakthrough could come on offense. Quarterback Alex Smith finally lived up to potential in 2011 and signed a new deal in the offseason. We’ll find out if there’s any hangover or resentment from the Peyton Manning issue. But despite his success, Alex Smith will have to improve in 2012. San Francisco relied heavily on the run and struggled in the passing game in crucial situations. To help the matter along, San Francisco signed Mario Manningham away from the New York Giants, gave Randy Moss another shot, and drafted a very promising receiver out of Illinois, A.J. Jenkins. They also nabbed LaMichael James to boost the youth movement in the running game. All in all, this 49ers offense should be more effective in 2012. It’s up to Smith to lead it. But if he can’t, Harbaugh has Colin Kaepernick and Josh Johnson to fall back on.