49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

January 17, 2011
Final four theme: Great defenses, great edge players

My mother always told me I was special. And now - after 37 years of mediocrity - there is proof. Way back in August, I was asked to predict which teams would make the playoffs and which would play the Super Bowl. The results below obviously point to clairvoyance (pay no attention to the Bengals and 49ers picks). Now only one question remains: Should I use my newfound super powers for good or for evil?

Staff predictions
Matthew Barrows, 49ers writer
AFC
East: New England
North: Cincinnati
South: Indianapolis
West: San Diego
Wild cards: N.Y. Jets, Tennessee
Champion: N.Y. Jets

NFC
East: Dallas
North: Green Bay
South: New Orleans
West: 49ers
Wild cards: Philadelphia, Minnesota
Champion: Green Bay
SUPER BOWL: Green Bay

Some playoff notes that pertain to the 49ers.

* There has been a lot of talk about the mind-boggling 284 roster moves made by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider during their first season in Seattle. Don't expect the 49ers to come even close to that number. 1.) While the 49ers also have a new GM, Trent Baalke is not new to the 49ers and moreover was the architect of the team's 2010 draft. 2.) Harbaugh's personnel philosophy meshes with Baalke's, which in turn is similar to that of Scot McCloughan, Baalke's predecessor. 3.) The off-season labor dispute is likely to curtail roster reshufflings. The longer CBA talks last, the shorter the windows for player trades and free agency.

* It's a good postseason for 3-4 defenses. Three of the four remaining teams in the playoffs have a base 3-4 scheme (Green Bay, Pittsburgh and New York). But the playoff teams also show that the key to a great defense isn't the system but the personnel, and moreover, the personnel a defense has at the edges. The Steelers and Packers have great outside linebackers. The Jets have great cornerbacks, who yesterday took away all the outside routes from Tom Brady and the Patriots. The Bears have a great defensive end in Julius Peppers. The 49ers? Their strength is in the middle of the defense with their defensive line and their inside linebackers. They need help on the periphery, especially in a league that skews more and more to the passing game every season. One last thing: Of the four remaining teams, only one - Green Bay - finished in the Top 10 in total offense. It ranked ninth. But all four teams ranked in the Top 10 in total defense. Pittsburgh was 2nd, the Jets were 3rd, the Packers 5th and the Bears 9th.

* What kind of quarterback does Jim Harbaugh like? It's going to be the biggest 49ers question in the three-month run-up to the draft. My sense as of Jan. 17 is that Harbaugh is confident he can mold just about any quarterback into the passer he wants. But if there's been one hallmark of Jim Harbaugh's college pupils, it's been accuracy, which is what the West Coast system demands. "You'll see timing throwing," Harbaugh said the other day on Chronicle Live. "He (Bill Walsh) invented the timing passing. That's something we do, we want to be excellent at." Former University of San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson had a 66.3 completion percentage in 2006, the last season that Harbaugh coached him, and completed 68.3 percent of his passes the following season. Andrew Luck, meanwhile, set a school record for completion percentage in 2010 by completing 70.7 percent of his passes.

Here are the 2010 completion percentages of some of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft:

Greg McElroy, Alabama: 70.9
Patrick Devlin, Delaware: 68
Cam Newton, Auburn: 66.1
Andy Dalton, TCU: 66.1
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada: 64.9
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas: 64.7
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa: 64.1
Blaine Gabbert, Missouri: 63.4
Christian Ponder, FSU: 61.5
Jake Locker, Washington: 55.4

McElroy, Dalton, Kaepernick, Stanzi, Ponder and Locker all will be on hand for Senior Bowl practices, which begin a week from today.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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