There are a whole assortment of interesting conclusions to take from the 49ers 28-24 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Whether we're talking about Phillip Adams, Dominique Zeigler, or Travis LaBoy, the 49ers made some solid strides in spite of a pretty ugly overall game. However, I thought it was worth opening with the incredibly awesome performances of running back Frank Gore and linebacker Patrick Willis.
Frank Gore was held out of the first two preseason games as a precautionary measure given his value to the offense. Today he was on the field for one series and made quite the impact. Although he and Smith got crossed up on one pitch, on two other rushes Gore rushed for 58 yards. Seeing him bowl over defenders and race down the field in midseason form certainly has me a little more ready for the start of the regular season.
Patrick Willis provided his own fireworks as he too was in midseason form. Willis had 8 total tackles and1 sack, and made the Raiders running backs look incredibly silly on a couple plays. The next step in the evolution of Patrick Willis to greatest linebacker of all time is improving his anticipation of the plays coming at him. He's certainly shown improvement in that part of his game.
The game itself was fairly ugly throughout. Both teams were hampered by penalty calls, and while they both put together some nice drives, there was a decent amount of poor play mixed in. Pretty much par for the preseason course. While the teams want to see what their talent can do, they also aren't going to give away many secrets. That doesn't excuse the false starts and offsides, but it's still something to consider.
Seeing as I had to use alternative means of viewing the game I don't have any DVR to review at this point. I'm recording the tape-delay, which I plan on checking out tomorrow. In the meantime, there are certainly some players that stood out for good and bad reasons.
Phillip Adams is probably the first one that most people will think about from this game. Adams was not a huge presence on defense, but he might very well have made his bones with an 83 yard punt return. Given the 49ers struggles on punt returns last year, people were quick to go nuts. One thing to keep in mind is that it was one punt return. It likely was enough to score him a job. Of course, if you look at the next punt return, it's possible he didn't yell loud enough to make sure his teammates didn't accidentally hit the football when it bounced. That's something a punt returner has to make sure and do to avoid a fumble. Nonetheless, I'll take a punt return TD every day of the week. It will be interesting to see what happens when Kyle Williams gets healthy.
Travis LaBoy didn't fill up the stat sheet tonight, but once again he had a sack of the quarterback. I don't think his talent and nose for the QB has ever been questioned. His problem has always been injuries. If he can stay healthy he appears to still have a nose for sacks.
Alex Smith put together a second straight solid performance, which has to buoy the hopes of 49ers fans. I know not everybody will be happy, but Smith made plays and generally looked solid in his time at the helm. He finished 9 of 15 for 113 yards and a touchdown. He once again had a nice TD drive, but he also mixed in some decent passes on other drives. We'll see how consistent he can be come week 1, but for now I'm content with his preseason progression.
Anthony Dixon put together some nice runs, but he also had some struggles. He continues to dance a bit much, and when you're facing first team defensive players that's just not going to cut it. He excelled in the second half, but as has been noted, he was facing second and third string defensive players. I'm not saying we should completely discount his performance because of that, but rather it's something to factor in. He's got a lot of talent, but I'd imagine 2010 will feature up and down performances.
Furthermore, with Brian Westbrook in the fold, it remains to be seen how much playing time Dixon will see. Westbrook was fairly limited today as he had 2 rushes for 17 yards. The team is perfectly content working him in slowly and avoiding serious preseason injury. One would suspect he'll be the go-to guy as a primary backup to Gore once the season starts.
Another strong rookie performance came from Nate Byham. Byham had an ugly drop in the red zone early on, but made up for it with a beautiful catch to convert a 2-point conversion late in the game. Rookies will have those kinds of ups and downs, and we saw that with the drop and some pretty ugly blocks at times. Nonetheless, the team is giving him a lot of opportunities this preseason. I'd think he's on the good side of the bubble, but this upcoming week of practice and the Chargers game will be crucial for him to lock it up.
And just because Ninjames might kill me if I don't mention him, but Dominique Zeigler put together another impressive performance, finishing with 5 receptions for 47 yards. Whereas Jason Hill was mostly non-existent on the field tonight, Zeigler continued to impress. Hill has a contingent of supporters that view him as much more talented than Zeigler, but at the end of the day, talent only takes you part of the way. Production is necessary and Zeigler has stepped up his game.
The biggest disappointment today would be that the defense put together a fairly inconsistent performance. They gave up two long, slow drives and also saw Reggie Smith get burned on the Louis Murphy touchdown before the half. I'm not all that concerned about the defense heading into the regular season, but you never like to see them get torched. I do think the Raiders have the potential of a decent enough offense, but you still don't like giving up those kinds of touchdown drives. The defense will need to tighten up as we head towards the regular season.
The other disappointment was David Carr who looked lost out there at times tonight. he did help the team score the winning touchdown, but that last drive was really more of a punch them in the mouth drive than a passing drive. The good news is that he's the backup QB and I'm not wildly concerned about a poor preseason performance by Carr at this point. It'd be nice to see him blow the doors down, but Alex Smith is the man for us and let's just hope we don't have to see Carr during the regular season outside of blowout wins.
All in all, I think the team took a positive step forward tonight. There are areas of performance that are still a bit shaky, but overall, the team is progressing towards the regular season. They'll need to work on discipline to prevent the false starts and offsides calls. But hey, it could be worse: we could be dealing with an emerging QB battle between Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson!