2013 49ers season preview: Improvements and regressions

Harbaugh: 'We're ready to play our first game'

2013 49ers season preview: Improvements and regressions
September 5, 2013, 4:00 am
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Joe Staley anchors one of the best offensive lines in football, but Chris Culliver's season-ending injury is a significant blow to the 49ers. (AP)

After a busy offseason, the 49ers open the regular season Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Overall, are they better or worse than the team that lost to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII?

How the 49ers are improved
Forget that the 49ers are unsettled at split end with Michael Crabtree expected to miss most of the season with a torn Achilles. The 49ers' offense will be better in 2013. The offensive line -- already one of the best in the NFL last season -- returns intact. This unit is only getting better.

Also, quarterback Colin Kaepernick should be able to build on his 10 starts last season. He has always been able to drive the ball down the field. During training camp, he showed much improvement with providing catchable underneath and short passes.

[REWIND: Kaepernick's touch throws vastly improved]

Anquan Boldin takes over as the No. 1 wide receiver, but the most dangerous pass-catcher on the team is tight end Vernon Davis. Kaepernick is the kind of quarterback who makes his receivers better. So one or more wide receivers will emerge to help out in the passing game.

Frank Gore still leads a powerful ground game.

How the 49ers have regressed
The 49ers' defense is still very good, but it seems unlikely the team will be able to play as sound in the secondary as it did during the regular season a year ago. The 49ers were the only team in the league that did not allow a touchdown pass of 40 yards or more. Dashon Goldson took a leap last season toward becoming one of the top safeties in the NFL. He continued to make big plays, but he also minimized his mistakes.

[RELATED -- 49ers roster gains and losses]

Rookie Eric Reid steps into the starting lineup. He earned his spot, no doubt. But he is a rookie. And he can be expected to experience some rookie mistakes.

The loss of third cornerback Chris Culliver hurts a lot. Veteran Nnamdi Asomugha is in line to take over as the third corner.

Carlos Rogers, who covers the inside receiver on third downs, is a smart player but it'll be quite a chore for the nine-year veteran to run with some of the young speedsters on the 49ers' schedule.

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