Panthers Hope to Emulate This Seasons 49ers in 2012

Joel Thorman's put out predictions for the remainder of the 2011 season and playoffs and was struck by how much improved the 49ers are from 2010. It's the type of improvement, barring a 2nd half collapse, that I think the Panthers should hope to emulate from 2011 to 2012. I'm as surprised as anyone to see them succeed because I have never thought Alex Smith could lead a team to a winning record much less an NFC title game.

That is where Thorman thinks the 49ers are headed but given he's picked the two teams with the best records so far (Green Bay & San Fran) in the NFC he's not really going out on limb with this prediction.

NFC Championship: Packers over 49ers. Indeed, the 49ers making the NFC Championship game by limiting their mistakes and playing excellent defense. Ultimately, though, you can't pick against the Packers making the Super Bowl. They're in another world compared to the rest of the league right now.

Now if he had picked GB & SF before the season he would be looking pretty smart right about now. 

Back to my point, what is has been the biggest driver of the 49ers rise to a 4 game lead int he NFC West? Is it improved QB play by proverbial under-achiever Alex Smith? Is it improved defense? Special teams? Before you dismiss their record because of a perceived easy schedule (they are in the NFC West after all) consider they have beaten the Eagles, Lions, Bengals and Bucs (destroyed them actually) and have yet to play the Rams or the Cardinals. given I only see three hard games left in their remaining nine I could see this team going 13-3. I'm not sure I see them in the NFC championship just yet but they have an easy road to a 1st week bye.

We will explore that and how the Panthers could learn from the 2011 49ers after the jump...

Here's the 49ers NFL ranks this season compared to last season (via NFL.com):

49ers Statistics

2010 Rank

2011 Rank

Total Offense

24th

18th

Rushing Offense

17th

18th

Passing Offense

25th

10th

Total Defense

13th

4th

Rushing Defense

6th

1st

Passing Defense

24th

21st

Special Teams

22nd

2nd

 

You can see only certain aspects of their game have improved and only one has improved dramatically, special teams play. You can pretty much thank the addition of KR/PR Ted Ginn, K David Akers and P Andy Lee for that dramatic improvement.

The defense likewise went from 6th to 1st against the run which is never a bad thing. The passing defense though has seen only modest improvement but that could be that teams find themselves having to throw more than they would like since they can't run the ball.

The offense only went from 24th to 18th overall thinks to some improvement in the passing game. I'm sure some credit must be given to new HC Jim Harbaugh but let's also acknowledge they've spent some picks on the offensive line that have panned out.

So if you look at the 2011 Panthers you see we have the offense to make the improvement we seek. We have a good pass defense but no surprise the rush defense has got to improve. Even more glaring is the need for huge improvement in special teams but I think that could be achieved with a single player.

So here's the priority for the Panthers offseason free agent acquisition strategy based on this 49ers model:

1 - Sign the better KR & PR on the market (one that could do both would be preferred)

2 - Get the best 4-3 DT on the market to pair with Ron Edwards until Fua and McClain become starter quality.

3 - Get the best 4-3 WLB on the market to compete with Thomas Davis

Do those three things and this team can reverse their current 2-6 record to 6-2 in a single season. What do you think? (I agree using the 49ers as a model is painful but...)

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