Jim Harbaugh hasn’t needed much time in getting the San Francisco 49ers back to being Super Bowl contenders.
The fiery coach took over a team that hadn’t had a winning season for eight consecutive years in 2011 and promptly won 13 games and came within one victory of reaching the Super Bowl. In 2012, Harbaugh got the 49ers to the Super Bowl, but they lost. Last year, the 49ers were again a game away from the Super Bowl.
All three of Harbaugh’s seasons in San Francisco have started in similar fashion — with a victory in the season opener. He would like to continue that trend against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in Arlington, although his team has plenty of question marks going into the season.
The offense struggled to put points on the board much of the preseason, and several impact defensive players will be on the sidelines to start the season.
San Francisco knows it’s going to be without linebackers Aldon Smith (suspension) and NaVorro Bowman (injury), as well as defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (injury). And now the status of defensive lineman Ray McDonald is in question after he was arrested over the weekend on suspicion of felony domestic violence.
Those defensive questions are certainly hurdles for the 49ers to overcome, but at least they have a track record of success in season openers.
Additionally, Harbaugh and his staff have had several months to game-plan for the Cowboys. That preparation, according to a couple players, has not included looking at game film from the last meeting between the teams in September 2011, a 27-24 overtime victory for Dallas in San Francisco.
After all, much has changed since then, beginning with a quarterback switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick.
Eyes on Kaepernick
Kaepernick had an off-season of highs (signing a contract that could be worth up to $126 million) and lows (being investigated for a sexual assault case that was ultimately dropped).
But he is ready for the regular season to begin, and the 49ers have the makings of what could be an elite offense. At least on paper.
The preseason numbers suggest otherwise but, according to the Bay Area News Group, Kaepernick “shrugged off such stats by citing how it is just ‘preseason’ football.”
And maybe Kaepernick and the offense will be right.
It’s hard to look at their roster and not feel it’ll put up numbers. The receiving corps includes Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd, as well as tight end Vernon Davis. And running back Frank Gore is coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.
But it all starts with Kaepernick.
“So much of what they’ve been able to accomplish offensively comes from his ability to throw it, his ability to make plays with his feet when things break down,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s a big part of what they do. They have a big, strong offensive line, they have a great runner, and they have a dynamic, play-making quarterback. The challenges are there.”
• The 49ers reached an agreement with guard Alex Boone, who passed his physical Monday and ended his off-season holdout.
• Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who had a well-publicized departure from the Miami Dolphins amid a bullying scandal last season, had a successful camp and started in place of Anthony Davis at right tackle most of the preseason.
• The 49ers’ captains going into the season are linebacker Patrick Willis; defensive tackle Justin Smith; left tackle Joe Staley; and Kaepernick.
“I would say we’re getting close. I can’t say we’re completely on. It’s only been a couple months. It’s getting there. I can’t say we’re clicking right now, but we’re getting there.” — WR Stevie Johnson, on his receiver-quarterback chemistry with Colin Kaepernick
3 San Francisco’s rank in points allowed last year
11 San Francisco’s rank in points scored last year