This article is part of our Team Previews series.
State of the Franchise
Thanks to the league's top run defense, a fierce pass rush and experienced corners, the 49ers were considered to be one of the NFL's top contenders entering 2012. Coaches will regularly tell you that defense wins ballgames and in that regard the 49ers were built to win. But while their defense maintained its elite status, it was the team's offense that took center stage, thanks to a long-overdue quarterback change that vaulted a relatively unknown young man from the University of Nevada into an NFL star.
With a rocket for an arm and outstanding mobility, Colin Kaepernick waited patiently as the team's No. 2 quarterback behind incumbent Alex Smith. 2012, after all, was the first year in the last five in which the team's coaching staff remained unchanged and Smith was finally comfortable in a system designed around both his strengths and weaknesses. After playing reasonably well through the first nine games while ranking as one of the league's most accurate passers, Smith suffered a concussion in Week 11 and from there, everything changed.
Though still considered a run-first team thanks to the talents of seemingly ageless RB Frank Gore, Kaepernick's ability to roll out of the pocket, read the defense, and either throw a laser downfield or tuck the ball and run it himself gave the coaching staff a whole new set of plays with which to work and a lot more time to use them. The three-and-out largely became a thing of