The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up their 2011 preseason campaign on a high note in defeating the San Diego Chargers 20-17. The team had areas where they struggled, but they accomplished what I would view as their most important task: get a somewhat consistent performance from the first team offense.
Well, they got that. The first quarter saw that as Alex Smith put together an efficient 8/10, 45 yard performance. He didn't make any particularly deep throws, but in the context of the offense he didn't try to force anything. I think he'd like to have back the fade pattern to Braylon Edwards, but otherwise he did what he needed to do. The defender had some solid coverage on Edwards, but Edwards could have easily used his size to get the touchdown grab. Such is life. We can't win 'em all.
The big winner coming out of the first quarter was Kendall Hunter. He had a beastly first drive with 46 yards on six carries. He showed fantastic vision and great speed as he was picking up nice chunks of yards. Although Anthony Dixon only had four yards on his first four carries (two touchdowns aside), he turned it on after that with 41 yards on nine carries. Not spectacular but a very solid effort after a slow start.
These strong performances were achieved in part thanks to a strong performance by the offensive line for much of the first quarter. They opened up holes for the running backs and they gave Alex Smith time to maneuver around and find an open receiver. Arguably just as important was that Alex Smith seemed to have a better pocket presence tonight. He moved around in the pocket with some ease, and even had a nice seven yard run at one point.
Although the second and third string secondary got roughed up at times by QB Scott Tolzien, the pass rush was pretty spectacular at times. NaVorro Bowman had his sack, fumble, and recovery, which I think we can call a sort of defensive triple play. Aldon Smith had a beastly game with 2.5 sacks and 6 tackles. And UDFA stalwart Demarcus Dobbs made his presence felt throughout the second and third quarter. He appeared to get a hand out on the Jordan Todman fumble and he was around the play when sacks were happening.
While Dobbs is no Justin Smith, I actually would compare his performance today to Smith in the sense that while he didn't fill up the stat sheet (no tackles), he was always making his presence felt. I'm not saying he's the next coming of Smith, but he looked like the real deal tonight. If he hasn't clinched a roster spot yet, I don't know what else he can do.
The backups in the secondary had some struggles at times, and it was interesting to see Madieu Williams get the start at free safety over Dashon Goldson. I don't think Goldson even got on the field during the game. Maybe it's a matter of keeping him healthy?
I realize I haven't mentioned Colin Kaepernick thus far, but I also think that for the 2011 season, his struggles are not quite as alarming as they would appear in a vacuum. He struggled and if Josh McCown is not the primary backup to Alex Smith to at least start the season, I'd be a little shocked. McCown and McLeod Bethel-Thompson got some reps and McCown seemed to shake off the rust pretty quickly. Meanwhile McBLT got a few reps and even aired out a pass. I think the 49ers try and stash him on the practice squad, but we'll see how that pans out after cuts and waivers.
The next step for the 49ers will be cutting the roster down to 53 players between now and Saturday afternoon. There were some question marks heading in to tonight's game and while some were answered, there remain some tough calls. We'll have a 53-man projection tomorrow morning as we prepare for those final cuts.
Then it's on to week one against the Seattle Seahawks. We'll have plenty to discuss in advance of the opener. For now, let's start with the last time they met on the football field: