We'll have plenty of 49ers-Packers recap coverage in the next few days, but for this evening I wanted to get some quick observations down. It's been quite some time since the 49ers took care of business in this kind of fashion. There was some good, there was some bad and there is certainly still plenty to improve upon. However, for one day, there was plenty more good than bad.
J.T. O'Sullivan - We might as well start with the quarterbacks. O'Sullivan looked horrendous to start , but then the chemistry was re-established with Josh Morgan quite impressively. O'Sullivan showed us the absolute best and the absolute worst in the space of 30 minutes. If he ends up winning this little competition, it will definitely make for a roller-coaster season. If he was winning this competition heading into tonight, his 2nd quarter performance should be enough to keep him in the lead and maybe even buy him a little more cushion.
Alex Smith - Smith didn't look spectacular but he was able to move the offense and get 10 points on the board. The one noticeable problem he had was throwing behind and above receivers. He didn't hit a single receiver in stride and missed out on a big gain when he underthrow Josh Morgan. While O'Sullivan had some passing issues, when he was on he helping create big plays. At times it felt like Smith was holding the offense back from big plays. While he didn't do anything particularly awful, he definitely didn't do enough to warrant a start next weekend.
Shaun Hill - In this QB competition it's never really safe to make any proclamations, but I think barring injury to O'Sullivan AND Smith, Hill is more or less out of the contest. It doesn't help to be playing with the third string offense, but I just don't see enough snaps to go around for him to make a statement.
Josh Morgan - Let's just say my excitement level for this rookie is reaching unhealthy and unrealistic levels. Morgan finished with 5 receptions for 114 yards and was an Alex Smith underthrow from taking a 65 yarder to the house (or at least making a big gain). Last season Thomas Clayton led all NFL running backs in rushing and yet I did not find myself nearly as excited. Morgan made big catches, he did the little things (like getting first downs) and he was all over the field. Detractors would argue his big plays came against the Packers #3 or #4 guy, Jarrett Bush. However, I throw back two arguments: 1) He can't determine who covers him and 2) If Morgan is playing in the regular season he's likely being covered by the #3 or #4 guy because he's come into the game as part of a 3 or 4 receiver set.
As is quickly becoming tradition, I'm planning a post devoted just to Morgan's performance for early this coming week. I realize I am probably setting myself up for a huge disappointment, but let's be real here. The 49ers have been desperate to develop a star receiver since TO left town. Morgan may not become that star receiver, but he is showing legitimate signs of being a serious playmaker.
Dominique Zeigler - Zeigler is totally going to get screwed by the numbers game. Although, if the 49ers elect to keep 6 receivers I'd take him over Lelie any day. Zeigler made some solid catches and impressed me with his fearlessness, particularly considering how small he is. His bio says he's 185lbs, but I don't buy that. He's eligible for the practice squad again but I wouldn't be surprised to see another team try and snag him.
Defense - The biggest criticism of the 49ers defense has been the lack of a pass rush. It was only a single preseason game, but the defensive line and linebackers showed dramatic improvement from week 1. The team finished with 6 sacks and Aaron Rodgers could not get into a rhythm the entire first half. Ray McDonald clearly has problems with jumping offsides, but he is also showing signs of being a legit pass rusher. He had 1.5 sacks and forced Rodgers into another one (although that might be the .5). Tully Banta-Cain made noise in the fourth quarter with a pair of sacks and Justin Smith even got in on the action.
The highlight of the night on defense was the stop after O'Sullivan's INT. The defense got really lucky on the Donald Lee drop in the endzone, but followed that up with a pair of big stops. On that defensive stand, and many others, the defense used hard hitting to set the tone and make sure the Packers knew they were in for a long night.
Special Teams - We're going to break this down into the good and the bad. The good is very clear: Allen Rossum showed signs of why he was signed. While his punt return TD was against the bottom of the Packers depth chart, he had to make some Pro Bowl caliber moves to score the TD. Also, Joe Nedney continues to be absolutely money. If the 49ers are going to get into contention, having a kicker with ice water in his veins is a big asset.
Now the bad. The special teams coverage was absolutely atrocious on a couple of returns. Granted it's the bottom of the depth chart, but giving up a pair of big kick off returns, particularly after the Johnnie Lee Higgins TD last week, is not a good sign. This coming week's game will give us a better idea of special teams coverage since first teamers play for up to three full quarters.
In spite of some of the ugliness, it was a fun game to watch, which is something 49ers fans have missed out on for much of the last few years. It's only one game so I won't get myself too worked up over the offensive performance (aside from Josh Morgan of course). There was plenty of good, but also plenty of room for improvement, making this upcoming game against the Bears all the more important.
Speaking of which, it's a short week as the 49ers and Bears square off Thursday on Fox in a nationally televised game. I'll have some more specific reviews of this just completed game and we'll get prepped for the Bears game shortly thereafter.