There are some interesting story lines on the San Francisco 49ers after they held on to beat the San Diego Chargers 20-17 on the road to close out the preseason.
Quarterbacks: The ongoing “quarterback controversy” seems to be silenced as Alex Smith had a solid game while Colin Kaepernick floundered. Yet Coach Harbaugh still will not outright name Alex as the starter. Interestingly, former UFL QB Josh McCown was a perfect 4-4 for 51 yards in his first game action since being signed, albeit against the Chargers backups. Mecleod Bethel-Thompson did play in the fourth quarter and was 0-1 passing. He will likely be cut as the Niners need to go from 80 players currently on the roster to 53 on Saturday.
Running Backs: Frank Gore got paid and only played 3 snaps, not touching the ball at all today. Kendall Hunter continues to put up stats including a kickoff return for 51 yards tonight, while Anthony Dixon held his own by punching the ball into the end zone for 2 scores. I don’t expect to see Xavier Oman make the 53 man roster although he has been productive.
Wide Receivers: Michael Crabtree is off the “PUP” (physically unable to perform) list but did not play. Braylon Edwards still is not being targeted at a high level at all. The “first stringers” Ted Ginn Jr. and Joshua Morgan played well today. Ginn has been finally making plays as we all hoped he would do for a long time now. (really since being drafted out of Ohio State, he was looking like a bust, so we will see.) Kyle Williams continues to grow and showed he deserves a roster spot while Ronald Johnson struggled and lost a ball in tight coverage that was intercepted. I could see Johnson not making the 53 man roster.
Offensive Linemen: Former Pro Bowler Jonathan Goodwin made his first start at center. We will see if he becomes a mainstay at the position as he ought to be. Otherwise, rookies such as Chase Beeler and others received playing time in this last preseason game and the line held their own against the Chargers pass rush who only managed one sack.
Fullbacks: Moran Norris actually caught a pass in the flat for a four yard gain. He opened up some nice holes and helped the Niners punch the ball in the end zone. Rookie Bruce Miller, the who converted to a FB from LB has looked good so far. I don’t know that Jack Corcoran will make the team.
Defensive Line and Linebackers: This was one of the real bright spots during the game. The 49ers totaled 6 sacks on the night to only 1 by the Chargers. Rookie OLB Aldon Smith was allowed to hone his skills doing what he does best… rushing the passer. Smith was credited for 2.5 sacks for a combined loss of 22 yards and was tied for the games lead in tackles, 6 and one assist. ILB Navarro Bowman (taking over the starting ILB position in replacement of departed Takeo Spikes) only recorded one tackle, but it was a sack and forced fumble that the Niners recovered. Antwan Applewhite and Larry Grant (who played for the Rams last year) looked good as 2nd teamers and each tallied 4 tackles and 2 assists. Applewhite also recorded half a sack. Demarcus Dobbs continues to get pressure on the QB as well and will see regular playing time. When there are bright spots there are also problems as Keaton Kristick (back-up to Patrick Willis) sustained a leg injury and was carted off the field. No news to my knowledge of his status.
Defensive backs: Not the best game for our secondary as Chargers QB Phillip Rivers did not play, but the Niners allowed an undrafted rookie Quarterback to throw for 226 yards with a completion percentage of 69.6. QB Scott Tolzien formerly of the Wisconsin Badgers had a good thing going to Chargers WR Laurent Robinson who caught 6 passes for 120 yards. Tolzien even threw the games only touchdown pass to Seyi Ajirotutu with less than 2 minutes to play that made it 17-20. My reaction to that is WHO? I know who Tolzien is, he led the Badgers to a great year and a BCS Bowl. But Robinson and what??? Ajirotutu? If you have heard these names, let me know. Niners were lucky that Ryan Mathews only had one breakout run as he sprinted past the Niners secondary and went to the house. I can’t remember whether it was Donte Whitner or Madieu Williams that Mathews ran by like he was standing still. On to better things, former Charger C.J. Spillman also had the tie for game tackle totals with 5 solos and 2 assists. Spillman has been making plays on special teams and in a relief corner/safety role. Spillman and rookie Chris Culliver both broke up passes in the game. I am very happy with Culliver so far as he is maybe the best looking defensive back the Niners have drafted in years (this early on that is).
Coach: Jim Harbaugh continues to have his hands full, but seems to be on his way to implementing the West Coast Offense as short passes tonight seemed to be an extension of the running game. QB Smith looked smooth, the running backs got it done with style, and the offensive line showed promise with Goodwin at center. Hopefully he (Goodwin) really is a team player that helps shore up the Niners biggest issue as a team… pass blocking.
Prediction: I see 9-7 this year based on the Niners sched which espn says is the third easiest in the NFL. What really helps the Niners is that the majority of divisional games are in the latter half of the season with the exception being the upcoming showdown in week 1 with the Hawks. This allows the Niners to jell especially on the offensive line before the games that are most important. Seriously tho… we get the Bengals, Cowboys, Lions, Browns, Redskins all with losing records last year (wouldn’t be surprised if we see that the Lions are real tough customers this year). Also the Eagles, Bucks, Ravens, Steelers, and Giants are the only teams we play that had winning records. I see the Rams as the team to beat in the NFC West this year and the Hawks and Cardinals sliding. There will be no 0-5 start this year for the Niners. Last year, the schedule was front-loaded with difficult match-ups that any team would have had difficulty with.
Stay strong Niners Faithful!
I’m out – The Fraz