Are 49ers ready to rise in 2010 to among NFL’s elite?

Question: When do you think the Niners are going to be Super Bowl contenders? @originalswagger

 

Answer: First things first. The 49ers are close to being contenders in the NFC West. They might even be considered the favorites to win the division in 2010 – especially if Kurt Warner decides to call it quits.

 

But are they close to being among the upper echelon teams in the NFL? Probably not.

 

Let’s look at the final four teams in the NFL playoffs. Three of the teams got extraordinary play from their quarterbacks. Drew Brees and Brett Favre were the first- and second-rated passers in the NFL. The other guy, Peyton Manning, has more on his plate than any quarterback in the league.

 

So, this season, it took either outstanding play from an elite quarterback or the top defense in the NFL (Jets) to make it to a conference championship game.

 

The 49ers, right now, have neither.

 

It’s reasonable to expect Alex Smith, the 19th-rated passer in the league, to be improved in 2010. But it’s doubtful he’ll be among the game’s top handful of elite passers.

 

(This is where a certain percentage of people will start ragging on the 49ers offensive line. The 49ers can use an upgrade on the line, to be sure. But maybe with a better understanding of the offense, Smith can help the line. Maybe he’ll get rid of the ball quicker and have better timing with his receivers on throws outside the numbers. He’ll know more about the protections and when it’s his responsibility to account for the unblocked man on certain blitz pickup schemes, etc.)

 

Defensively, the 49ers still have more key players on the rise (Patrick Willis, Dashon Goldson, Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson, Ahmad Brooks) than those who are at the stages in their careers where decline generally occurs. But will the defense be good enough in 2010 to carry them deep into the playoffs? Again, doubtful.

 

People often ask me if Mike Singletary is a good coach, and that question stumps me. When I look at the coaches who made it to yesterday’s games, I see:

 

–Sean Payton and Brad Childress – coaches who were offensive coordinators who know what they want on that side of the ball and can take active roles in making sure their plans are carried out either through game-planning or play-calling, or both.

 

–Rex Ryan – a former defensive coordinator who can take an active role in designing schemes to combat the opponent.

 

–Jim Caldwell – he is more from the Singletary mold, with one major difference. Caldwell has a piece of machinery that can virtually run itself. He can great trust and faith in Manning and longtime offensive coordinator Tom Moore to get the job done because they’ve done it repeatedly.

 

Singletary has some incredible traits as a coach. He is tough, demanding and he listens to the needs and wants of those who work for him.

 

Singletary is a self-described “big-picture guy.” That might be fine, but only if there are extraordinary people taking care of the small details for him. And that’s where I have my biggest doubts about whether the 49ers are ready to take that next step.

 

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