The 49ers were featured this afternoon on NFL Total Access. The segment began with an interview Kara Henderson - she reminds me of Ann Archer in Patriot Games - did with Mike Singletary. It was a nice piece if you're only somewhat familiar with Singletary, but everyone who follows the team passionately (like you) has heard most of it before.
Highlights included where Singletary thinks his 49ers are as far as a playoff team: "I don't think we're far away. I think we're an offseason away. And that's where we are right now." ... And Singletary's thoughts on David Carr's role this season. "They were both the first players chosen in their respective years," he said of Carr and starter Alex Smith. "They were both thrown into the fire right away and did not succeed right away. And that was very difficult. And a guy like David Carr really becomes another sounding board, someone who says, 'Hey, I've been here, too.'"
What I found most interesting was the tete-a-tete Michael Lombardi and Jamie Dukes had after the segment. Lombardi, a former Raiders general manager who spent time in the 49ers organization under Bill Walsh, has been critical of the 49ers in recent years, especially what he perceives as their long-time lack of an elite quarterback. The two were asked whether the 49ers were poised to win the NFC West. Both seemed to think so, but their debate over the team's offensive approach, I believe, really zeroes in on what will be the make-or-break issue for the team this year. (Try to guess which guy I agree with).
ML: I think San Francisco is primed for the top of the bill because there's no (other) quarterback. Unless Matt Hasselbeck - as I said earlier, he can make the statement that he's back to the Matt Hasselbeck of old. But to me, Jamie, this team's about - they want to be Mike-Singletary-tough-run-the-football, but every statistic you look at last year, they couldn't perform. First down - one of the worst first-down teams in the league. They couldn't be physical. They couldn't gain four yards. They struggled to make big plays. They're gonna half to tweak their identity a little bit for them to win the NFC West.
JD: I don't think they need to change their identity. I think there were some personnel changes that are going to help. You bring in (Anthony) Davis, you bring in (Mike) Iupati, you make that emphasis. We know that winning football starts in the front seven on both sides of the football. And so what do they do - two first-round draft choices. They bring Mike Iupati in. He's a mean, physical, Mike Singletary kind of guy. You bring Davis in there -- mean, physical, Mike Singletary kind of guy. And that's why I think they're going to be successful. I think they can run the ball. Frank Gore is the guy who can get the job done. The question becomes, what happens with that quarterback? You're dead on with that.
ML: What happens is that when you want to run the ball on first down, teams attack the pocket on you. This team got sacked 18 of the 40 times on first down. Why? Because they knew Alex Smith was going to try to hand the ball off and if he didn't, they were attacking the pocket and forcing him and got him on the ground. And once they (the 49ers) got a negative down - second and 14, second and 15 - they couldn't overcome it. Look at their third-down stat - they were below 30 percent on third down**. To me, if the 49ers win the West, it's because Alex Smith had a career year.
JD: The thing I think about ... This 49ers team is ready. The defense is there. It's ready to make things happen. Offense - you've got weapons. You've got (Michael) Crabtree, you've got (Vernon) Davis, a Pro Bowl tight end. Think about it. Crabtree is gonna be I think an exceptional player. He's a young guy who's learning the system. Then I think Ted Ginn is going to give them something not only in the kick-return game but also I think as a third, second or third, wide receiver because he's such an explosive player.
ML: It comes down to the quarterback.
** Actually, the 49ers weren't "well below" 30 percent on third down. They were right at 30 percent, according to the NFL.com, tying them with the Raiders for third-worst third-down percentage last season.
-- Matt Barrows