Thanks to the fine folks at the NFL Network, I lucked out and was able to watch the 49ers-Colts game live here in Las Vegas. The good news was that I don't have to wait until I get back to San Francisco on Tuesday to catch the game. The bad news was that I had to sit through the Colts announcing crew, I had to watch promos for Tim Tebow every 15 minutes, and I got to see every possible advertising option known to man. The Colts local TV managed to get advertising on everything imaginable. Fairly entertaining.
While I obviously paid plenty of attention to the game, I won't be able to review the tape again until Tuesday. Accordingly, this post will be a bit light in discussing the offensive line performance. I'll throw some mentions in, but I generally get a better idea of the line's performance after going back and focusing primarily on them.
After the jump, we take a look at the star performers of the game, where the 49ers showed some improvement, and where they still have to develop in the coming weeks.
Offensive Star of the Game
RB Anthony Dixon
21 rushes, 100 yards, 1 TD
3 receptions, 22 yards
Is there really any doubt about this choice? Anthony Dixon was a monster out there for the 49ers. His longest rush was 23 yards and while he was stood up at times after short gains, he provided a decent amount of consistency, which is all you can ask for, particularly from a backup running back.
The 49ers have had their share of solid preseason running backs that are no longer with the team in large part because they struggled when it came to blocking. I honestly need to go back and review the tape as far as Dixon's pass protection is concerned. For those who paid particular attention to this facet of his game, could you give us your thoughts in the comments?
Defensive Star of the Game
OLB Diyral Briggs
4 tackles, 1 pass deflection, 1 interception, 2 QB hits
There were several players potentially worthy of this honor (and a prestigious one it is!). Safety Reggie Smith had the big interception return for a TD that was a game-changer (even if it was after Manning left the game). LB Bruce Davis looked very solid netting 6 total tackles and a sack. Newly acquired defensive end Will Tukuafu had a sack right off the bat, which was nice. And even though the first string defense had some issues, nose tackle Ricky Jean Francois look solid in his time on the field.
However, given the expectations of some fans, the performance of Diyral Briggs has to inspire some excitement and confidence in 49ers fans. Briggs has generally been impressive in the preseason but has not yet had the opportunity to make a big impact once the regular season starts. With Ahmad Brooks likely out for the very beginning of the regular season, Briggs might get a crack at some regular season playing time. And considering Manny Lawson may not be a member of the 49ers past 2010, it would be nice to see what the team really has in Briggs.
Kyle Williams: The 49ers have to be pleased with the performance of Kyle Williams on his one punt return. He didn't do much in two kick returns, but at this point I'm looking for more out of him as the primary punt returner. It remains to be seen what he'll contribute as a wide receiver, but for now I'm already looking forward to any punts he might return next week. The first step for the rookie was showing the skills he has. The next step is becoming a consistent threat for the team.
Nate Davis: As the second preseason of Nate Davis' career begans, he is sort of picking up where he left off in 2009. Solid performances that get some folks jumping on the bandwagon, or picking the reins back up. I've got a post coming later today because I think there is a lot to discuss about Davis whether you think he should be starting right now, or you think he is never going to be much use. It's hard to judge any of the QBs from this first game given the types of short throws they were completing. I'd imagine if Coach Singletary could get the running attack he had today on a 16-week basis, he'd be pleased as punch.
Reggie Smith: Smith had the big interception and made some very nice plays in defending against the pass. He and Taylor Mays will be battling for that first safety off the bench role. For now I think Smith will settle in to that third safety role. If he can stay healthy, I think he could be a very solid contributor in the secondary.
Mike Iupati: As I mentioned before the jump, I didn't focus in on the offensive line while watching the game. Given that, this inclusion is mostly based on everything I read. Iupati's name didn't come up much during the game (even given the Colts broadcasters), which generally means he wasn't beat too much. Anthony Davis had more rookie struggles but wasn't exactly awful. However, from what I'm reading and what I can recall from yesterday, Iupati definitely seemed to take a strong step forward.
David Baas: While I can't say Baas blew us away with his performance at center, not hearing his name was a good thing. I don't really recall any poor snaps, which is always a good sign for a new potential starting center.
Deep depth: There were a lot of comments about how the 49ers depth outlasted the Colts depth. Basically the good to come out of this was that the 49ers scrubs were better than the Colts scrubs. And at the end of the day, that doesn't count for much heading into the regular season. Obviously having backups like Briggs and Dixon perform well is a good thing. However, getting strong performances from guys like Bruce Davis and Mike Balogun probably won't mean a whole lot of much. But still nice to see some of these guys perform well.
David Carr: I include Carr in the good because he put up solid numbers. At the same time, he'd probably fit better in some kind of "meh" category. Yes, he was 9/11 for 98 yards and a TD. However, I think those numbers are a bit deceiving. His passes were short and safe high percentage passes. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that you can't declare a QB controversy based on those kinds of passes. He remains the statute that gets sacked like crazy, but he did get the offense moving a fair amount.
Michael Robinson: Considering Frank Gore is the primary running back, that backup job only has so much value to it. And yet, Michael Robinson may have coughed up the job in a matter of seconds. That's not to say Anthony Dixon is a lock to now be the #2 running back. However, Robinson's performance combined with Anthony Dixon's performance certainly can't have Robinson feeling all that comfortable heading into week 2 of the preseason.
Alex Smith: I include Smith here in a similar fashion to including Carr in the good. Whereas Carr's numbers appear solid, Smith's were not even pedestrian. Smith was 3 of 9 for 37 yards and an interception. More importantly, you could see some of the rust that appears early in the preseason. The best example of that came when Smith and Vernon Davis apparently miscommunicated on one of their patented seam routes that would have been the biggest offensive play of the day. Personally I'm not yet concerned about that. There's a drastic difference between running that play in practice and running it in front of 70,000 fans in your first game of the season. That play will be there when the season gets going.
Jason Hill: I include him here solely for that ball that bounced right off his hands midway through the game. Dominique Zeigler was outperforming him in practice, and while Zeigler didn't outperform him yesterday, drops like that one will not help Hill.
As the team prepares for their preseason home opener against the Vikings, the 49ers will have to make some adjustments to playing time. Alex Smith played the entire first quarter yesterday and will likely get the entire first half next Sunday. However, the first string offensive line received a lot of playing time yesterday, and will likely see even more time together next Sunday. It takes time to gel, so let's hope a couple more weeks will get them in regular season form.
Questions that will need further consideration in week 2 against the Vikings include:
1) Can Anthony Dixon consistently bring a solid rushing attack, and if so, can he also step up in pass protection?
2) Can Taylor Mays improve his pass coverage? He made some solid tackles, but had some struggles in defending the pass.
3) Can Kyle Williams provide some consistency as a punt returner?
4) Did today's game shake enough rust off Alex Smith so that we'll see a stronger performance next week?
5) Will Nate Davis and Anthony Dixon combine together to turn water into wine?