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2012 Season Review

Well, the season is over and I just wanted to post my thoughts on it. It's a tough pill to swallow, losing the Super Bowl, but I'll get to it…

The 2012 Off-Season

Naturally, like any offseason, we had so much optimism going in. Our defense was top-notch, we picked up a couple key players, and didn't have any major needs going into the draft.

Our key acquisitions were A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Randy Moss, Brandon Jacobs, and Mario Manningham. Meanwhile, we didn't lose anyone I'd consider significant.

I feel that the logjams that we had at runningback and receiver were especially good moves. We lost Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, and Kendall Hunter to injury. The lack of depth at wide receiver is what killed us in 2011, but we had strong depth this year. All of our major acquisitions were positive impacts. Brandon Jacobs was cut, of course, but really… in a nutshell, we're talking about our fourth or fifth runningback, who couldn't buy into the team first mentality, and got cut for it. A.J. Jenkins, so far, seems like a questionable pick now, but we drafted him for the long run. We'll know in a year or two if he was worth it or not.

One area of concern I felt we had, but didn't think too much on, was that we didn't have a lot of quality depth at defensive line. I think, that really hurt us in the later stages of the regular season and the playoffs.

The 2012 Regular Season
We started off very hot, dominating both the Packers and Lions. We looked every bit like the perennial Super Bowl favorites, and then all of a sudden we got into a slump against the Vikings and lost that one. Then we came out and blew up both the Jets and Bills, only to get thumped against the Giants… I think if there was a pattern throughout the regular season, is that we had a lot of consistency problems. It's difficult to pin-point exactly where it was, but sometimes it felt like the team just came out flat… In some ways, that weird phenomena seemed to show up in the playoffs too…

The Decision
When we look back at Coach Harbaugh's decision to bench Alex Smith for Colin Kaepernick, it's going to be something that we'll all debate for years. Clearly, it's a case of whether or not the team would be better off having a more efficient offense under Alex Smith, or a more explosive offense under Colin Kaepernick.

I think in the long-run, obviously, the plan was always Colin Kaepernick. You look at the speed that we acquired in the draft, with LaMichael James and A.J. Jenkins, and you see that Kaepernick was always the long-term plan. I knew as good as Alex Smith was last year, we were going to find a quarterback of Harbaugh's choice, he'd build him up, and that would be the guy. However, it came as a surprise when Kaepernick, thought to be a raw prospect, became the starting quarterback this season. I thought it was going to be another year or two, but it appeared he was a bit more ready than originally thought.

But these are my final thoughts on "the decision": If our defense was playing at the level they played at last season, then I would've said that we should've kept Alex. But the fact is, our defense did NOT play at the same level late in the year. I think Alex could've done a better job of controlling the clock and efficiently putting up points, but the 49ers still would've been down against the Falcons and Ravens. Would it have been 17 and 22 point deficits? I doubt it, but I think we still would've been down. I think, with the defense not being as strong this year, we needed more explosiveness from our offense. This decision probably was displayed very well in the playoffs.
The Playoffs: Divisional and Conference Championship
In my opinion, the 49ers lived and died by Colin Kaepernick this post-season. Obviously, it's a team thing, but we all saw what he did against the Packers. We saw his ability to come back against the Falcons. But let's talk about the Falcons game.

We saw how slowly the 49ers started on offense. Colin Kaepernick took a bit to get the game going, and didn't quite get the team back into it until the second half. When we look at Kaep, he's still only got 10 games as a starter. He's got a wonderful arm, and not to put Alex down, but he can make throws that Alex can't make. He's got great touch on intermediate, deep routes, and throws on the run. He's also very willing to take more risks and throw the ball into tight windows.

At the same time though… he doesn't have complete control of the offense, and I think the 49ers are still figuring out how to build the offense around him. We saw how often the 49ers had to burn timeouts because the offense wasn't ready. That was possibly the biggest thing that Alex had over Kaepernick this season. But this is not a knock on Kaepernick. It's simply the truth.

But to be honest… I was very impressed with Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs. He put the team on his arm and his legs, and got us to the Super Bowl. The defense wasn't as stingy as it was last year, and I think that Kaepernick was the difference-maker.

The Super Bowl
I'm very proud of our guys. They played their hearts out. But I think the biggest thing I noticed about our team in the Super Bowl today was that we came out, almost rattled. Obviously it's the Super Bowl, but I am surprised that we lost. On paper, I feel like we're a superior team to the Ravens. We can run the ball better, our defense had been a stronger unit this season, and we have an extremely versatile offense.

But I felt that the Ravens were able to overcome us because of experience and a lot of the intangibles. Joe Flacco's poise was incredible today. The Ravens' aged defensive unit played much better than their average stats would suggest. They came out with their best from the very get-go, and kept a steady pace to the end of the game.

Meanwhile, we came into the game with a penalty on the first play of the game. We had two turnovers on back-to-back offensive plays. Kaepernick had trouble getting the snap out on time, which cost us two timeouts in the end of the game that we could've used for a last second drive. At the same time though, we had a lot of big plays. We were able to move the ball very well, and finally got into a rhythm in the second half.

I feel like, the biggest weakness of our team, in comparison to the Ravens was experience across the entire organization. John Harbaugh and his assistants have fielded playoff teams for the last couple years, competing against the Bill Belichicks and Mike Tomlins and John Fox's of the AFC. Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have been in college for the past few years. Obviously, our coaching staff is still top-notch, but Greg Roman will get a lot of heat for his play-calling on our last drive. Don't forget that we missed a two-point attempt as well.

Offensively, I think we aren't schematically matured yet. Greg Roman had to re-design the offense around Kaepernick in the last half of the season to a radically different style. Meanwhile, as brilliant as Kaepernick is, he only has ten starts.

On defense, I'm very concerned that our defense has regressed. I felt our linebacking corps, the core of the team is the best in the league, but I have concerns about our defensive line and secondary. The defensive line, especially without a 100% Justin Smith, isn't as good, and our cornerbacks are only average.
Going into the 2013 Offseason
We're a great team though. If our coaching staff made a few different decisions, or our players made a couple more plays, we'd be the Super Bowl champions. But we'll head into the offseason, trying to make it back and get the Super Bowl next season.

I wish I could say that if we just get a few key players, we'll be good, but that's not true. We're going to go into decline in a couple of areas. Frank Gore, Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Jonathan Goodwin, Carlos Rogers will all be one year older, and they'll be weaker as players.

On offense, I feel good about where they're going. Colin Kaepernick will be in his third year. He'll have a full offseason with the coaching staff to build the offense around him and his strengths. He still makes a lot of mistakes, such as staring down his receiver. He's going to be a phenomenal quarterback, so I'm not worried about the offense.

On defense, I'm worried. The last quarter of the season, and the playoffs, showed me that our defensive line depth is weak. We need to find guys who can rotate in and out and still play at a high-level. We need a guy who can replace the irreplaceable Justin Smith. And although our secondary isn't bad, we could probably afford to get better at the cornerback position. So many times, I'd see slot receivers out-work our cornerbacks like Danny Amendola or Victor Cruz. Anquan Boldin and Julio Jones had monster games against us.

We'll be a good team for the next couple years, but the window with the current set of guys is closing. I want to see Frank Gore and Justin Smith get a ring. Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner probably only have 2 years or so themselves to play at a productive level. I really hope that Baalke and Harbaugh re-tool our defense so that we maintain a high-level there.

My biggest wish for this off-season would be to find the next J.J. Watts or Haloti Ngata (or both!). It'd be great if we can get our hands on a cover corner, but the defensive line needs work. I think we'll probably lose Alex Smith, so we'll need to find a back-up to Colin Kaepernick. I think Manningham will be a great guy for a few years, and I hope A.J. Jenkins develops.

It really hurts that we lost the Super Bowl, but we showed a lot of promise. It's disappointing that we had to lose in the biggest stage, and that we're so close, but I honestly believe we'll be around for awhile if our management and coaching staff can guide the current roster well.