Scout's take: 49ers' strengths, weaknesses

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
4:24
PM ET
The San Francisco 49ers are 2-1 and leading the NFC West heading into Week 4. Does that suddenly make them division favorites with the St. Louis Rams sitting 0-3?

"I guess I'm leaning toward San Francisco, but I don't feel confident," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said this week. "The Rams could finish strong. I can't see Seattle doing it. And I think Arizona is a six-win team, but they are all kind of six-win teams."

The 49ers won six of their final 11 games last season. That makes them 8-6 over their last 14 regular-season games. The Rams and Seahawks are 5-9 during the regular season over the same span. The Cardinals are 3-11.

With that, a closer look at the 49ers from Williamson's perspective:

  • [+] EnlargeFrank Gore
    Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesRunning room has been harder to come by for Frank Gore this season.
    On the struggling ground game: "Frank Gore doesn’t look good. He is not attacking things. Gore looks like he is playing hurt. He has run so competitively in the past. He would not just go in the tank. I think Kendall Hunter is very interesting. He looks like he is playing at a different speed when he goes in there. I don't know if Gore has lost a step, but there is no running room for him. You can see where Gore is frustrated. Their line is abysmal. It is amazing."
  • On quarterback Alex Smith: "Smith has exceeded my expectations. He does not make a lot of mistakes. You can grind out some wins. I give Jim Harbaugh credit. He is manufacturing offense. It is a real test for Harbaugh because Smith is so limited. I just don’t think he throws the football very well. He is a good athlete, but he is not big and strong, doesn't make difficult throws, doesn't handle the rush real well, doesn't anticipate things real well. But he is smart and I do think he has some ability. I thought Harbaugh could turn him into a serviceable West Coast guy if he is all he is cracked up to be."
  • On the offense overall: "They finally got Vernon Davis involved. They use a lot of double tight end sets. Delanie Walker is a nice player, but too often those guys have had to help the offensive line, especially Davis. I would like to see what the offense can do with both Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree healthy for a game or two. Those guys have obvious inconsistencies, but they also have obvious talent. They might be able to open up room for one another, for Davis, for the run game, make life easier for Smith. Overall, if they turn the ball over, they are done."
  • On the defense: "Their front seven is fantastic. I don't know if everyone knows how good Justin Smith is, but he is one of the 10 best players in the league on defense. Patrick Willis is, to me, the best second-level defender in football. I'm not saying best linebacker because it's not fair to compare him to DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews, those guys. But Willis is the best second-level defender and it's not even close. They have two other guys, NaVorro Bowman and Ray McDonald, playing out of this world. Bowman is a big-time find. The 49ers are tough on all down-and-distances. Not only is the nose tackle (Isaac Sopoaga) playing well, but then he comes off the field and Smith and McDonald go inside, and then the outside guys are a handful, too. Aldon Smith has flashed, Parys Haralson, Ahmad Brooks. I don't love Donte Whitner, but he is an upgrade. They are a corner short even though Carlos Rogers has played very well."

That completes our four-team checkup with Williamson. You can reach him on Twitter as well.

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