Nostocksjustbonds started a very brief discussion about the possibility of similarities between the 2007 49ers and the 1981 49ers. I've been thinking about it ever since and wanted to do a little more research into it. First off let's take a rather rudimentary look at the team's performance the prior year (# in paranthesis is the NFL rank).
1980 49ers: 6-10 (following a 2-14 season)
Passing: 3799 yards (#6)
Rushing: 1,743 yards (#24)/4.2 YPA (#7)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 5,542 yards (#12)
Passing: 3,958 yards (#26)
Rushing: 2,218 yards (#23)/3.99 YPA(#19)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 6,176 yards (#27)
2006 49ers: 7-9 (following a 4-12 season)
Passing: 2,890 yards (#29)
Rushing: 2,172 yards (#6)/4.96 YPA (#2)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 5,062 yards (#26)
Passing: 3,571 yards (#26)
Rushing: 1,936 yards (#19)/4.09 YPA (#16)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 5,507 yards (#26)
A quick glance at these particular numbers shows the influence of the West Coast Offense in 1980. While the team was highly ranked in rushing yards per carry, they ranked very low in total yards as the short passing game took over. While the rankings of total passing vs. total rushing yards would indicate mirror images of each other, I think it can be concluded the 1980 offense clearly performed better. The passing game made up quite well for the relative lack of rushing yards and furthermore, this was simply Bill Walsh's growing offensive strategy.
On defense, it appears the 2006 49ers performed better. Of course there are plenty of extenuating circumstances that would affect those numbers, so this has to be taken with a grain of salt. The 1981 draft shows the real improvement this team made.
The turnaround by the 49ers defense in 1981 is due in large part to the talent they brought in on defense in that year's draft. That draft class produced the likes of Ronnie Lott (Rd 1, #8), Eric Wright (Rd 2, #40) and Carlton Williamson (Rd 3, #65). When you can load up with 3 legit starters in your secondary you kind of have to be happy. With that, why not take UNLV DB Eric Wright this year just for the synergy?
While we have yet to reach the 2007 draft, this offseason has seen a full scale rebuilding of the defense. While Michael Lewis might not follow Ronnie Lott as the greatest safety ever, the combination of new talent will be key this season.
While I would love to see this team fully complete the turnaround and win a Super Bowl I am a little more realistic. Alex Smith will be a good quarterback in this league, but clearly he is not Joe Montana yet. In 1981, Montana made "the leap," from potential to production, jumping from 1,795 yards and 15/9 TD/INT to 3,565 and 19/12. Part of that was that he took complete control of the start job from Steve DeBerg. Will Alex Smith a similar leap? Or even a miniature version of that leap?
With an improving defense and the power of Frank Gore, I don't think a huge leap is necessary for Alex Smith. If Smith can just make some steady improvement, this team will be a respectable contender...And just so you know, the Kool Aid will be available on your way out the door.
We'll look at this again after the draft and shortly before the 2007 regular season starts.