After an offseason filled with high expectations, the 49ers entered the 2010 season ready to take their place as the NFC West division champions and truly begin their return to glory. The good news is that the 49ers are still in the NFC West race. The bad news is that it has absolutely nothing to do with what they've done so far. All things considered, the 49ers 2010 season has gone about as poorly as humanly possible. I'm sure there were a few negative nancies projecting an 0-4 start but they were few and far between in August.
And yet with a quarter of the NFL season done and over with, the 49ers sit at 0-4 in the cellar of an abysmal NFC West division. I won't bore you or anger you with a complete rehashing of every loss. Suffice to say, the 49ers have found new and impressive ways to kick me in the nuts every week. And of course here at Niners Nation folks have found a variety of ways to express their disdain, contempt, frustration, and anger with the 2010 San Francisco 49ers.
In light of the anger and venom spewing forth (all for very good reasons), I thought I'd bust out the glass maybe a quarter full version of things. The team may be spinning out of control, but amidst the darkness there are specs of light that bode well for the future. The 49ers might have plenty of problems at this point and we may see coaches fired and players released (or more players). However, there are in fact positives that can be taken from this season. I'm not expecting folks to be excited to be 0-4, but getting angry about this will not make it any better. While optimism won't make it any better either, it will at least make you feel a little better heading into the second quarter of the season.
The Youth Movement
While the 49ers have added some young talent over the years, they weren't exactly a crazy young team after last season. However, the team's roster and in particular their starters have taken on a more youthful bent. Ninjames discussed it briefly yesterday in his post on Taylor Mays and Anthony Dixon. I won't even begin to argue for Anthony Dixon because it's just too early.
However, Taylor Mays was certainly a revelation on Sunday. Even throwing out the spectacular special teams play (how often do you see rookie defensive players with that kind of awareness?) he certainly impressed in his first start in place of the recently departed Michael Lewis. Obviously he showed many of the weaknesses that caused his draft stock to drop (coverage issues), but for a rookie safety, he certainly could have done a lot worse. And I'd like to think he should only improve. Obviously he'll have his hiccups along the way, but getting him out there starting would hopefully get him on the road to becoming a great safety for the 49ers.
Obviously Mays is the flavor of the hour right now, but we certainly can't forget about our Twin Towers (I'm tempted to stick with this as the running theme for them) from the 2010 NFL Draft, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. The two big men have had their share of struggles, but they've also shown signs of why the 49ers drafted them both in the first round. Rookies will always have their ups and downs and I can live with that if they show signs of progress. While folks might disagree with a variety of Mike Singletary's decisions, I think the decision to insert the two big men in the starting lineup the first week of minicamp was an excellent decision.
The other young guy worth discussing at this point is Nate Byham. In his player-by-player review, Matt Maiocco pointed to a couple nice blocks from Byham. Each week we seem to get a little something different from the rookie tight end. One week he'll make some nice catches, another week he looks good blocking. Delanie Walker might miss this Sunday's game against the Eagles, which would propel Byham into the #2 spot on the depth chart. The 49ers have mixed in an awful lot of two tight end formations, which could mean a lot more playing time for Byham on Sunday.
The remaining schedule
It's hard to discuss the schedule moving forward in large part because the 49ers have yet to prove they can actually win a game. The 49ers remain a mere two games out of the NFC West race, which is a sign of how weak the division is at this point. And yet, if I'm going to come into this with the glass at least a quarter full, I might as well provide my optimistic look at the rest of the schedule. My view on this is that as somebody commented yesterday, the schedule eases up to the point that arguably "even Alex Smith couldn't screw this up."
I'm going to provide my super optimistic prediction of the schedule. I have little basis in reality for these predictions because the 49ers are currently playing in some kind of alternate reality. But I'll stick with the optimistic theme:
Week 5 vs. Philly: Win - With Kevin Kolb starting, maybe the 49ers defense can do enough to win this. It's a home game here in San Francisco so maybe that's enough? As you can see my optimism knows no bounds and will not be held in by logic.
Week 6 vs. Oakland: Win - The Raiders aren't awful this year but I refuse to believe they'll beat the 49ers in San Francisco. Even if the 49ers are going to go 3-13 this season, this is a must win no matter what.
Week 7 @ Carolina: Win - Panther Watch returns in full glory. The Panthers are a tough team to figure out so why not go with a win in spite of the 10am pacific curse the 49ers have run into (although I call BS since the 49ers started hot against Atlanta)
Week 8 vs. Denver: Win - And the 49ers are back to .500 after handling their business at their 2010 home away from home, Wembley Stadium. I'll be at the game witnessing the triumphant return of the 49ers to .500.
Week 10 vs. St. Louis: Win - The Rams are playing solid ball and look to be trouble in their Dome, but in San Francisco I think Sam Bradford gets smacked around by the 49ers defense and has an ugly performance. Whether Alex Smith outperforms him is the real question.
Week 11 vs. Tampa Bay: Win - Josh Freeman is quietly proving to be a decent QB for the Bucs as they sit at 2-1 right now. Let's hope the 49ers defense has their way with another young QB this week.
Week 12 @ Arizona: Win - I'm all for the second straight Arizona sweep. The Cardinals are 2-2 but they just seem like a sail boat with some holes letting on water (of course that would make the 49ers the Titanic at this point). I say Alex Smith outperforms Derek Anderson or whomever is on the field at this point in Arizona.
Week 13 @ Green Bay: Loss - I'd love to go crazy and predict a win here but an early December game at Lambeau Field likely doesn't end well. Although if the 49ers continue struggling this season the likely result is the 49ers losing on a last second field goal.
Week 14 vs. Seattle: Win - REVENGE! (really around the 1:25 or so mark).
Week 15 @ San Diego: Loss - I think the 49ers can hang with the Chargers in certain circumstances, but the Chargers have never lost in December under Norv Turner. It's uncanny.
Week 16 @ St. Louis: Loss - Consider this a hiccup that makes week 17 a whole lot of drama. I like where the Rams are headed and I think they're going to be tough in general at home this year.
Week 17 vs Arizona: Win - Bring on the sweep.
This would finish up the 49ers at 9-7 and potentially NFC West division winners. I don't know how likely this is, but I figure I can dream a little bit. After all, the 1992 San Diego Chargers started the season 0-4 and then ran off an 11-1 run to make the playoffs where they took out the Chiefs before losing at Miami in the division championship round.
Consider this the last stand of my optimism and my sanity.