There's an interesting phenomenon related to the preseason, among fans of all NFL teams. I imagine every single one of you did this at some point on Sunday, so just know that you're not alone. I'm sure at some point early on when the San Francisco 49ers were playing the Denver Broncos, you uttered the phrase "It's just the preseason." You did that, right?
Maybe it was when the 49ers were on defense, made a mistake, and allowed in one of Denver's touchdowns. It's just the preseason, and the second preseason game at that. But I'm willing to bet your next thought was something along the lines of how badly you wanted the 49ers to retaliate with a touchdown of their own on the next drive.
While it's happening, even if it's just for a split second, we all get just as excited about big plays and angry about bad ones. The preseason just grants us the ability to get over it faster than normal. The truth is that the preseason does matter, but it has more to do with what we can gather from all four games as a whole on an individual basis. In other words, I don't necessarily believe that team failure is indicative of an underlying problem.
If Colin Kaepernick doesn't lead the 49ers to a touchdown, or he doesn't hook up with Stevie Johnson well ... I don't think that's too big of an issue for a couple reasons. The biggest reason is that we have no idea if the play they're running is even in the actual playbook. Jim Harbaugh isn't this cackling mastermind as we like to joke, but I do think he plays things close to the vest. Those kinds of struggles don't bother me.
Backup defenders getting burned by young, eager receivers doesn't bother me too much either. Again, we don't know where the playbook is, and building a strong, effective defense relies a lot more on a team effort than a receiver and quarterback hooking up. There's a lot of assignments missed and players pointing fingers and that's fine, because one of those guys probably wasn't even on the field for the previous play. It's a chaotic situation.
But individually, there's still a lot to take from Sunday's game, and the preseason opener last week. We didn't see the same promising rushes out of running back Carlos Hyde, which sucks but obviously isn't the end of the world. Blaine Gabbert didn't turn things around (I for one am shocked), Jimmie Ward still seemed to struggle and Josh Johnson, unfortunately, didn't secure the backup quarterback spot. That all sucks.
You should come out of this game worrying a bit about those things. You shouldn't be thinking the 49ers are going to go 0-16 as a result, but Hyde's running style and his (in?)ability to make things happen are unique to him and his skillset. Gabbert throwing interceptions and being totally incapable of judging the height of a wide receiver isn't something that was unique to the preseason.
Then again, there's some positives on top of that. When you see guys like Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine making tackles for loss, that's them individually making an impact. Dial cut through the interior of Denver's line on multiple occasions, and Carradine was the primary beneficiary. Carradine used a couple nice pass-rushing moves which shows progress and, of course, it's great to see him healthy. I'm not ready to anoint either of them starters, but it's great to see.
Inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite looked about as good as expected, too. He wasn't perfect, but he did keep most plays in front of him and made the stops you want a backup linebacker to make. He's not going to take that perfect angle and blow up a play in the backfield like NaVorro Bowman might, but he'll get his man and that's what matters. Seeing him as a tackling machine once again was a promising sign.
Tight end Vance McDonald is another guy who is showing fundamental improvement from last season, and he's demonstrating a pattern. It's the individual achievement or failure that we need to focus on, so keep that in mind when you look at this game as a whole. That sucked an awful lot, but it's just the preseason.