Before I get to the offense I thought I’d start with the special teams which is also among the very best in the NFL. The coverage units have yet to give up a touchdown return and its biggest error was allowing a blocked field goal in Philadelphia. Andy Lee continues to show that he is the best punter in the league; the guy can boot the ball 60 yards almost automatically 70 with regularity. David Akers has been excellent in both field goals and kickoffs hitting on all but 2 kicks (1 was blocked). Ted Ginn Jr put the game away against Seattle with 2 TD returns in a span of a couple minutes and has been excellent in the return game all season long.
Now onto the offense, Frank Gore had a horrific start to the season averaging only 2.5 yards per carry. Niner faithful everywhere were screaming about Gore losing a step, calling for more Kendall Hunter even. Then the 49ers went on an East Coast road trip that watched them and the offensive line get things together. Gore has surpassed 100 yards in each of his last 3 games capping it off with his most impressive performance at Detroit with a 144 yard performance on just 15 carries. Kendall Hunter has provided a spark and a different dimension to the running game with his scat back like around the edges style is a perfect complement to Gore’s power game.
While Gore was busy getting pelted with rocks early in the season he wasn’t alone, the offensive line was right there with him. The OLs performance the first 3 games was forgettable but not awful. Early in the season the team held up ok in pass protection but couldn’t get it right in the run game. It’s obvious now by watching this group that the running game has been given the biggest makeover on the offense and is much more complex than it was under former coach Mike Singletary. The group now seems cohesive and together, a young group that should only get better as the season goes on. Personnel wise Mike Iupati ranks as one of the very best guards in the NFL. Jonathan Goodwin is a very solid center that has won a superbowl and went to a probowl at 32 he’s the oldest player on the team but has less mileage than a typical 32 year old since he didn’t become a starter until his 5th season in the NFL and has played very well for the team thus far. Joe Staley made the famous “we don’t suck” comment after week 3 when the OL was struggling has settled in at left tackle and dispite giving up what seems like 1 sack per game Staley has been solid. I’ve heard a lot about Staley being overrated by fellow 49er fans, something to take into account is that Staley should get better as the season goes on let’s not forget he missed a large portion of last season with an injury. The right side of the line has been the target of considerable scrutiny as guard Chilo Rachal has struggled, luckily the 49ers have serviceable backup in Adam Snyder who has played mostly well since taking over for Rachal as the starter, this is a position the team needs to target next offseason. Anthony Davis the young 2nd year right tackle struggled early, especially in pass protection but has put together a couple of very good games back to back vs the Bucs and Lions. Davis has huge upside but needs to cut down on his mental mistakes especially penalties to fullfill that potential.
LOTS MORE ON PAGE 2
Normally I would lump the wide receivers and tight ends together it just isn’t that simple with this team. The WR group has been beat up all season long but has performed well considering the circumstances. Michael Crabtree missed yet another preseason as well as a regular season game with his nagging foot injury. Week 3 Braylon Edwards also went down with a knee injury that required minor surgery, Edwards is expected back after the bye. Joshua Morgan the teams leading receiver going into the teams week 6 game wasn’t so lucky. In garbage time Morgan suffered a broken leg and is out for the season on injured reserve. The sheer amount of injuries forced the team to sign former Packers WR Brett Swain last week. While this group has a ton of potential, it is extremely important that they get healthy if the 49ers want to make a deep playoff run they will need the Crabtree/Edwards combination clicking on all cylinders.
That brings us to the TEs; the 49ers are as strong at TE as any team in the NFL. The only team that features 2 starting quality players with the speed and versatility to line up all over the field. Vernon Davis and Delaine Walker are big time players, Walker proved even when Davis isn’t having a big day catching the football he can step up big like he did with the game winning TD catch in Detroit. Nate Bynam the teams assumed #3 blocking TE was lost for the season in training camp but the team hasn’t missed a beat. This along with the ILB group is the best personnel wise on the team.
Quarterback was the biggest question on offense easily coming into the season. Jim Harbaugh declared Alex Smith the starter before the team was even able to sign him this offseason. He gushed so much the NFL warned him about talking about players not officially on his roster. This alone had many including me wondering if Jim Harbaugh was posturing and if he wasn’t what in the heck he was thinking? Alex Smith’s play may be the biggest story, even bigger than the surprise 49ers themselves. Smith has been excellent, having thrown only 2 INTs through week 6 where he ranks 8th in QB rating in the entire NFL. Smith also earned the Fed Ex award for passer of the week for his performance week 5 vs. the Bucs. Not only that Alex has been one of the most efficient vs. the blitz and in the red zone this season. His play more than anyone else has put the team in the position it’s in at 5-1.
What to expect the rest of 2011 season:
The 49ers are 5-1 despite just playing the most difficult part of their schedule. Sure tough opponents such as the Steelers, Ravens and Giants remain but so do a lot of games in which the 49ers will be heavily favored. The team has played just 1 game vs. the NFC West leaving 5 games vs. the lowly Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams. Add in the games vs. Cleveland and Washington and the 49ers look like they should easily win 12 games this season. The team’s play on both sides of the ball have put them in the top 5 of everybody’s “power rankings” don’t expect things to change. The landscape of the NFL has changed a lot since last season with teams like the Colts and Falcons struggling and the 49ers, Bills and Bengals soaring. Aside from the Packers the 49ers are now the best team in the NFC. Look for the team especially the offense to continue to grow week by week as the players and coaches get more comfortable with one another and the scheme opens up. With 10 more regular season games to go it should be fun to watch the 2011 49ers.
Patrick Willis AND Navarro Bowman will BOTH finish in the top 5 in tackles this season.
Aldon Smith will finish with 12 sacks and will win the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Alex Smith will continue his stellar play and will be rewarded with a 3 year contract extension at some point during the season.
Jim Harbaugh will have more handshake drama before the seasons over
Frank Gore will become the 49ers all time leading rusher and will finish the season healthy.
49ers will finish with a 13-3 record losing a OT Thanksgiving day thriller to the Ravens the team will also lose another game they should win I can’t decide between the Redskins and the Browns here but one of those teams will “trap” the 49ers into a loss.
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Topics: Alex Smith, Braylon Edwards, Brett Swain, Bye Week 49ers State Of The Union Address: Offense, Frank Gore, Joshua Morgan, Joshua Morgan Injury, Kendall Hunter, Michael Crabtree, Offensive Line, Predictions