Jim Harbaugh faces pressure in second season


Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: The San Francisco 49ers.

It was hard to imagine Peyton Manning in San Francisco for more reasons than just salary cap issues. This is Jim Harbaugh's team. Everyone else is secondary.

Under Pressure: Jim Harbaugh

Under Pressure

Around the League will examine one key player under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season:

AFC East
Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
49ers | Cardinals | Rams | Seahawks

1. The 49ers' schedule is brutal on paper. They play the AFC East and the NFC North outside of their divisional foes, which is probably the toughest schedule possible. The NFC West is vastly improved, with the Seattle Seahawks' and Arizona Cardinals' defenses both emerging.

2. Harbaugh and his band of ex-Stanford coaches out-schemed the rest of the NFL last year on both sides of the ball. It's rare to see a coaching staff create consistent schematic advantages week after week. Harbaugh did that. The rest of the league has now had an offseason to look at film and figure out what Harbaugh was up to. Can he stay ahead of the curve?

3. Higher expectations equal more pressure. We've seen the 49ers listed as the NFC favorites in a few spots. Their defense is outstanding on paper, but defense, statistically speaking, is less consistent, year-to-year, than offense. The 49ers' offense was efficient last year, but quarterback Alex Smith still has to grow more to become a difference-maker.

4. The 49ers added running back Brandon Jacobs and receivers Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and A.J. Jenkins in an attempt to give their offense more depth. There are a lot of moving pieces for Smith and Harbaugh to integrate.

5. Some teams are led by the starting quarterback. He's the guy set up to take the most heat. That's not how it works in San Francisco. Harbaugh is the front man of this band; he is going to get the credit when things go well and the blame when things don't.

This season almost inevitably won't go as smoothly as last for this 49ers team. We are really interested in seeing how Harbaugh and the 49ers respond to adversity. They are no longer underdogs.