Yesterday I broke down the defenses that the 49ers faced in 2011, along with those they’ll face in 2012. The news was good: They’re playing 3 less teams ranked in the top ten defenses of 2011 and 5 more teams ranked in the bottom twelve than they did last year. Unless Alex Smith finds a way to completely implode, the offense should make some real headway this season, especially against some of the more sorry defensive teams in the league.
Everybody knows that the 49ers’ defense was the true star of 2011. They didn’t allow a rushing touchdown or a 100-yard rusher until facing the Seahawks in week 15. They were ranked fourth overall in defense behind the Steelers, Texans and Ravens. It was widely regarded as one of the best seasons that a defense enjoyed in NFL history, especially when it comes to stopping the run.
This year certainly won’t be as easy as last year. Here are the offenses they faced last year, as ranked by ESPN.com
The 49ers faced four top ten offenses in 2011 – #1 New Orleans, #4 Philadelphia, #5 Detroit and #8 New York Giants (twice)
-The regular season only pitted them against three top ten offenses, but the playoffs had them facing the Saints and the Giants (again).
-They went 4-1 against the top ten teams they faced, with that 1 being the (ugh) NFC Championship.
-Two of these games were on the road, Detroit and Philly, and the 49ers won both.
They faced six teams ranked #11-20 – #11 Dallas, #12 Pittsburgh, #15 Baltimore, #16 Washington, #19 Arizona (twice) and #20 Cincinnati
-I was surprised to see some of these teams ranked here (Baltimore, Washington and Arizona), considering the 49ers were ranked 26th in offense.
-They went 4-3 in these games, with the losses coming to Dallas, Baltimore and Arizona. Those were the only losses the 49ers suffered in the regular season.
-Four of these games were on the road, in which they posted a 3-1 record.
They played four teams ranked #21-32 – #21 Tampa Bay, #28 Seattle (twice), #29 Cleveland and #31 St. Louis (twice)
-They went 6-0 in these games.
-Two of these were road games, both the division matchups, and though the Rams and Seahawks tried to play spoiler to the 49ers’ homefield advantage, San Francisco managed to win both.
Fasten your seatbelts – here’s who the 49ers face in 2012:
San Francisco will face five teams ranked top ten in offense – #1 New Orleans, #2 New England, #3 Green Bay, #5 Detroit and #8 New York Giants
-The bad news: The 49ers are facing the top 3 offenses in the league.
-The WORSE news: All three games are on the road.
-That’s 2 more regular season games against top ten teams than they faced last year.
-They went 3-1 against the teams on this list that they faced last year, New Orleans, Detroit and New York (twice).
They play three teams ranked #11-20 – #14 Buffalo, #18 Minnesota and #19 Arizona (twice)
-That’s 3 fewer teams than they faced in the same ranking last year.
-Two of these games are on the road – Minnesota and one game at Arizona.
-The Cardinals are the only team here that they faced last year; they split their divisional series.
The 49ers face five teams ranked #21-32 – #22 Miami, #24 Chicago, #25 New York Jets, #28 Seattle (twice) and #31 St. Louis (twice)
-That’s one more game against teams with the same ranking last year — surely nothing to complain about.
- Three of these games are on the road: New York Jets, Seattle and St. Louis.
- The 49ers only faced the Seahawks and Rams from this group last year and swept them.
Chicago and St. Louis both suffered an offensive decline because of injuries to their starting quarterbacks. It’s hard to imagine that those teams will continue to inhabit the sewers of the NFL’s offensive rankings with their starting quarterbacks healthy (and don’t forget the Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall reunion).
It’s no wonder that Harbaalke made continuity on the defensive side of the ball such a priority. It’s not unreasonable to see three losses right at the top of the list in the road games against New Orleans, New England and Green Bay.
It is interesting to notice that none of the top ten teams on the 49ers schedule have a stellar running game (okay, the Saints had Pierre Thomas until they reached the five yard line in the opening drive of the NFC Divisional game. ZING). The 49ers should keep these teams from moving the ball on the ground, therefore making them one-dimensional. After that, it’s up to the secondary to perform.
Although football is a team effort, Vic Fangio &Co. can’t expect the offense to win a shootout against this schedule. The defense will have to rise to the occasion once again if the 49ers want to win some football games this season.