The NFL lockout allowed teams to get a jump on familiarization with 2011 regular-season opponents.
The prep work was tougher for teams preparing to face opponents with new coaching staffs. That is why the Seattle Seahawks, scheduled to visit San Francisco in Week 1, have had added interest in the 49ers' preseason games this summer. Those games have provided at least some evidence as to what the 49ers might look like with Jim Harbaugh on the sideline.
"I’ve kept an eye on San Francisco because that’s a new team and all," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters Thursday. "They looked very good last week against the Raiders. I’ve looked at both sides of that game film and they executed very well on offense and on defense."
The 49ers aren't tipping their hand from a strategy standpoint during preseason games. But those games still create a visual for what the 49ers' personnel might look like running basic plays.
A few thoughts on how prepared each NFC West team should be for its Week 1 opponent:
Seattle Seahawks: A year ago, the Seahawks were the team with the new coaching staff. They seemed to surprise the 49ers in the regular-season opener at Seattle. There should be fewer surprises when the teams face one another in the 2011 opener even though the 49ers do have a new staff. For one, the 49ers' key personnel is largely the same from last season. Two, Carroll coached against Harbaugh extensively while at the college level. He'll have a better feel than most for the way Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman like to call a game. He'll have a better feel than most for the way Harbaugh might want to use his personnel. The 49ers will surely have some surprises for Seattle, but the Seahawks should be well prepared under the circumstances.
San Francisco 49ers: They'll have good feel for what Carroll likes to do defensively given Harbaugh's experience at the college level and limited staff carryover. Both San Francisco line coaches, Mike Solari and Jim Tomsula, were on the 49ers' staff last season. Also, 49ers receivers coach John Morton was on Carroll's staff at USC. Seattle does have a new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, and new offensive line coach, Tom Cable. The 49ers will presumably study Bevell's history in Minnesota and Cable's approach to the running game. There should be no big surprises.
Arizona Cardinals: They have to feel good about facing the Carolina Panthers at University of Phoenix Stadium in the opener. Yes, the Panthers have a new head coach in Ron Rivera, but the Cardinals faced Rivera's Chargers last season, so they've prepared for his defensive scheme. San Diego crushed Arizona in that matchup, but that had a lot to do with the personnel each team put on the field that day. Rivera did not get to bring Philip Rivers or Antonio Gates with him. The Panthers will have a good feel for the Cardinals' personnel. Their staff includes former 49ers assistants Ray Brown and Pete Hoener.
St. Louis Rams: They would have been better served drawing an opponent less talented than Philadelphia, but if they were going to play the Eagles, they could not have picked a better time (Week 1) or place (at home). The Eagles are working through issues on their offensive line. One of their top threats on offense, Jeremy Maclin, has been ill. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and Eagles coach Andy Reid know each others' schemes and tendencies. They coached together for years. Safety Quintin Mikell signed with the Rams after spending all of his career with Philadelphia. He'll have a great feel for Michael Vick and the Eagles' offense.
Not that any of us are looking forward to the regular season or anything.