1. The 9ers defense can play with anyone in the NFL and stop the top RBs in the game. Keeping AP under 100yds was no mean feat. The pass defense isn't quite as good, but it's good enough to stop ARZ and SEA, two prolific passing teams. The changes at FS and CB were good moves - Goldson and Spencer are doing a good job and the competition has produced solid depth and a great Dime package. The DL is doing it's job and Soapoaga, Franklin, J. Smith, and R. McDonald are all playing well. Parys and Manny are getting significant pressure on the QB and forcing bad throws, although I'd like to see more outright sacks. And Nate Clements looks like he's off to a Pro Bowl season. But wherever this team is headed, it's the defense that will take them there.
2. The offensive running game is terrible for a team that is supposed to have a run-first strategy. Look at the yds/att stats - they're abysmal, even for a team without a running game. The play calling is highly questionable, to put it mildly. The OL is not as good as many of us expected it to be. Arguably, our only good O-linemen are Staley, Heitman, and Rachal. They are not opening holes for the running game and at times completely fail in pass pro. The Vikes DT K. Williams spent a lot of time yesterday running amok in the 49ers backfield. This problem may the root cause of the poor running game. Without an improvement in this unit, the offense will go nowhere.
3. Shaun Hill is a better QB than many of us expected. Despite his weak arm, which was on display yesterday at times, he makes good decisions and gets the ball away quickly, important qualities when the OL is as marginal as this one. And Hill is a money player - when there is a need, he comes through with long drives using the pass. Prior to Favre's last-second TD throw, Hill had outplayed him and had a better QB rating. More of the offensive load should be shifted from Gore to Hill, imho.
4. Special Teams is good, but not great. We swapped ST TDs with the Vikes and A. Rossum is off to a slow start this year - is it his last? We need fewer mental mistakes. Nedney and Lee are solid.
5. Turnovers, penalties, & mental mistakes have the potential to either make or break this team given the lack of progress in the offense. There were just too many really stupid mistakes made, like M. Roman's in the end zone, Walker stopping his route just before the ball gets there, and many others. Any team that depends on it's defense to keep them in the game for 60 minutes while struggling to put enough points on the board to win should understand that the margin for error is slim and mistakes will cost them the game. They are winning the turnover battle marginally, and that needs to improve, but one can easily argue that the dumb penalties and mistakes we saw yesterday cost the 49ers a W. There is a fine line between playing with unabated passion and cold discipline that this team must find.
6. Mike Singletary has imprinted his personality on the 49ers in a remarkably short time, but that personality does not include a lot of offensive innovation. It's much better than the erratic Nolan persona, but I'm not sure it has the breadth to include a strong offensive personality. We'll see over the coming weeks. The BYE will be a good time for some statistical analysis that will tell us a lot more about what exactly is going right and wrong with this team.
In the meantime, I think this team can win the NFC West to make the playoffs, but without a more consistent offense this is not a SB team. Feel free to jump in and disagree, but this is what I see right now.