49ers: One big question

May, 3, 2012
5/03/12
12:00
PM ET
Will the San Francisco 49ers approach their turnover differential from last season?

Ken Baker asked the question via Facebook. He's a Seattle Seahawks fan, so the question was probably rhetorical, but there's a broader context worth our attention.

The 49ers were plus-28 in turnover differential last season, a big reason they posted a 13-3 record. Winning the turnover battle most of the time is a reasonable expectation for the 49ers based on how they play defense. It was an even more reasonable expectation last season based on how the 49ers played offense in concert with that defense.

The 2011 49ers risked sacks instead of risking interceptions, trusting their defense and special teams. It usually worked. And the offense produced in critical moments against New Orleans during the divisional playoff round. But there were signs of trouble all season, especially on third down. The 49ers will have a harder time taking the next step in the playoffs -- reaching the Super Bowl -- without taking the next step on offense.

There should be higher expectations in 2012.

The 49ers have spent the offseason acquiring offensive weapons. They welcomed Randy Moss out of retirement. They signed Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham. They used a first-round pick for receiver A.J. Jenkins and a second-rounder for running back LaMichael James. By all appearances, the 49ers want more from their offense.

Spinning off the original question from Ken, I'm curious to see whether the 49ers demand more from quarterback Alex Smith and whether Smith can deliver without committing too many additional turnovers.

The 49ers built flexibility into their new contract with Smith, and they have expectations for Colin Kaepernick. How much higher will coach Jim Harbaugh raise the bar on offense?

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