We've finally reached our first game day of the year, even if it is just the first exhibition game. As it is the preseason, measurements of success are quite different from the regular season. In fact, one could argue that the measurements of success are different from the first preseason game to the fourth preseason game.
The last two games are probably the easiest to assess. In the last game, I think it's safe to say avoiding injuries is literally all that matters. In the third preseason game your starters usually get the largest chunking of playing time that they'll see in the preseason. So, while a win isn't the most important result, you want to see solid production from your first team offense and defense.
The first and second games are a little more difficult to determine. In the case of the 49ers and their quarterback competition, this difficulty is only magnified. J.T. O'Sullivan gets the first crack, followed by Alex Smith and then Shaun Hill. I'd imagine Nnamdi Asomugha won't see a lot of playing time so that certainly affects the quality of the defense O'Sullivan faces. As for Smith and Hill, while the Raiders first team defense presents many challenges, there appears to be a pretty steep decline as you move down the depth chart.
So how do you measure the success or failure of the 49ers offense? If they struggle to move the ball all night long, then there clearly is an issue. However, if Alex Smith and/or Shaun Hill are able to move the offense against the 2nd and 3rd string defenses, have we really learned anything? I'd say it's a lose/"not win" situation. Either they look bad and we're in trouble, or they look good like they're supposed to against a second or third string defense.
The issues on offense have overshadowed the defense, which has the pieces in place to do some good things this season. As far as I'm concerned, the Raiders first team offense is an offense on the rise. If JaMarcus Russell can get on board with his receivers and the running game continues to improve, they'll provide a nice little challenge. The 49ers defense has continued to add quality pieces and will get a stiff challenge right off the bat. The Raiders didn't have the greatest pass protection last season, so hopefully the 49ers defensive line and linebackers can get some pressure and gain a little confidence.
I think you can compare the four games of the preseason to a boxing match. This first game will be like the first couple rounds of a boxing match. The 49ers will be looking to feel things out and see what adjustments they need to make. In terms of the QB competition, you want somebody to step up, but you've still got time to figure out where your strengths lie.
The second game is where they want people to truly step up and make plays. You'd like to have answers at your starting positions, but there's still a little bit of time to step up. Fans want answers at this point before having to settle in for the long haul. The third game is where you find out what you're made of and for most teams, this is where everything is won or los. Finally, the fourth game is where you're just trying to make it to the end of the match without getting dropped by a sucker punch (also known as the "Dr. James Andrews consultation."