The 49ers 2011 offensive struggles are well documented. Any faithful 49ers’ fan knows the feeling: Regardless of the down or distance, there are always nerves attached to watching the offense play. Pre-snap ponderings always include “Will Alex get sacked?”; “Is he throwing a pick here?”; and “What’s the play call, and how is it going to screw up the rhythm of the drive?”

Call it Post-Traumatic-Singletary-Disorder.

A lot of people feel that the 49ers made it to the NFC Championship despite their offense. They certainly weren’t putting up crooked numbers like the Saints, but somehow, they mustered enough offense to win 14 games in total so they must have done something right.

But the 49ers had something beyond their own deficiencies working against them last season – they faced an extremely tough lineup of defensive teams.

Here are the “Cold Hard Facts” about the defenses that the 49ers faced last season, according to ESPN.com:

The 49ers played six games against top ten defenses: #1 Pittsburg, #3 Baltimore, #7 Cincinnati, #8 Philadelphia, #9 Seattle (twice), and #10 Cleveland.

-They went 6-1 in those matchups, including a 1-1 record against the two top five teams they faced, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
-Four of those games were on the road, with the only loss coming to the Ravens on Thanksgiving. I’m not here to gripe about what a scheduling snafu that game was… You get the picture.

They played four games against teams ranked between 11-20: #13 Washington,  #14 Dallas and #19 Arizona (twice).

-They went 2-2 in these games, with one of those losses being the week two overtime loss to Dallas.
-Two of those games were on the road, Washington and Arizona, a record they split 1-1.

They played seven games, including the playoffs, against teams ranked between 21-32: #22 St. Louis (twice), #23 Detroit, #24 New Orleans, #27 New York Giants (twice) and #30 Tampa Bay.

-They went 6-1 in these games with the only loss coming in the NFC Championship to the Giants.
-Two of these games were on the road, St. Louis and Detroit, and they won both.

Obviously things have changed with every team in the NFL this offseason, but I’d prefer to use the same rankings to judge the 49ers 2012 opponents. I could use some “expert’s” preseason rankings, but they’re probably no more accurate than my own prognostications.

Here are the defenses that the 49ers face in 2012:

Three games against last year’s top ten defenses: #5 New York Jets and #9 Seattle (twice).

-That’s three less top ten teams than they faced last year.
-Two of these three games are on the road. They swept Seattle last season.

They play four games against teams ranked between 11-20: #15 Miami, #17 Chicago and #19 Arizona.

-That’s the same amount that they played against last season.
-Only one of these games is on the road – their divisional matchup against Arizona, a team they split two games with in 2011.

Finally, they play nine games against teams ranked between 21-32: #21 Minnesota, #22 St. Louis (twice), #23 Detroit, #24 New Orleans, #26 Buffalo, #27 New York Giants, #31 New England and #32 Green Bay.

-That’s three more games against the bottom twelve than they played last season (not a bad thing, obviously).
-Five of these games are on the road – Minnesota, St. Louis, New Orleans, New England and Green Bay.
-The 49ers played five games against the teams in the dredges of the defensive rankings last season, missing the sweep only due to their NFC Championship loss to the Giants.

Obviously, the strength of these defenses will be different this coming season. For example, the addition of Mario Williams alone will make the Bills a better defensive team than they were last season. 49ers fans know how important a pass rusher can be to a team’s stopping power – just think Aldon Smith.

Does this mean the 49ers will go 13-3 again? Not even close. The strength of this season’s opponents offensively is the subject of a whole ‘nother blog thesis.

The point here is that with a little bit of offensive evolution, and the ease of the defensive opponents on their side, the San Francisco 49ers should have a much easier time producing offensively in 2012.