The debate surrounding the 49ers offense has raged on this site almost since day one. The site launched in late December 2006 and the 49ers were coming off a bounce-back 2006 campaign in which Alex Smith showed noticeable improvement from his rookie season, and Frank Gore set a franchise record for rushing. All looked well heading into the offseason.
Fairly quickly in 2007, things fell apart. Alex Smith injured his shoulder, the offense went in the tank and the debate has raged ever since.
Last year, we saw some areas of improvement from the offense. We did not see the 49ers offense turn into a dominant force, but there was improvement. Jim Harbaugh, Greg Roman and Geep Chryst allowed Alex Smith to work within his skills and limitations. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter allowed the 49ers rushing attack to bounce back from a down year. And yet, amidst all this, the 2011 49ers were driven by defense and special teams more than anything else. The offense could make plays, and could step up in key situations, but the 2011 49ers were about the defense and special teams.
The 2012 season has seen a shift of sorts. The defense remains strong, the special teams units are bouncing back from some inconsistency in blocking and coverage, but the offense has taken a distinct step forward. Alex Smith is having the best year of his career as the passing game is showing a more diversified attack. Frank Gore is seeing a resurgence, currently at a career-high in yards per attempt, and Kendall Hunter is proving himself to be a strong number two.
And yet, if I had to pick a midseason MVP for the offense, it would probably be the offensive line. I don't think we can declare one player as the MVP of the offensive line, so I am content giving the award to the whole unit. I was considering naming Alex Boone and Anthony Davis as co-MVPs, but in reality, they are simply key cogs to a key unit.
While mistakes are made from time to time, the unit as a whole is putting together some pretty dominant efforts. The rushing attack has been arguably the most important part of the offense this season, and I think the offensive line deserves as much credit as anybody. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are obviously talented running backs, but getting that initial opening and those second level blocks have been critical.
As for the passing attack? Alex Smith is having a career year as he is making more plays than in years past. Michael Crabtree has been a critical receiving option on third downs, the value of which I don't think can be understated. Randy Moss is making plays and opening things up even when he is not getting receptions. The tight ends continue doing their thing, even if Vernon Davis is seeing fewer passes his way. And even still, I think the offensive line deserves plenty of credit. Alex Smith has been sacked quite a bit, but more often than not he is taking the sack instead of forcing a bad pass. The offensive line has given up sacks, but not to the point that I think it is an issue.
Arguments can be made for a variety of MVP options on offense, but the offensive line has been critical to the 49ers offensive success. If they can put together a strong second half, this offense should continue to improve.