The San Francisco 49ers defensive front saw themselves thoroughly manhandled in the rushing game on Thursday, as the Baltimore Ravens had 237 rushing yards on the evening. They rushed for 64 yards in the first quarter, and another 63 in the second quarter. It was a less than stellar performance that had people wondering what the heck was going on.
The obvious answer of course is the number of starters resting. The 49ers sat Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Patrick Willis, and Aldon Smith from their front seven. Additionally, NaVorro Bowman is out until midseason, Glenn Dorsey could be out all year, and Ian Williams is still rehabbing his ankle. The only starter from last year's front seven in Thursday's game was Ahmad Brooks.
This does not make the performance any better, but in terms of preparing for the regular season, I think it is safe to say a defensive front that includes Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, and Patrick Willis is going to be OK. They will have their downs to go with ups, but there will be plenty more ups. And having Michael Wilhoite or Chris Borland next to Patrick Willis will be a lot different than having Wilhoite and Borland next to each other.
This shows some of the question marks on the depth side of things, but even that might be a little bit overblown. For the purposes of the preseason, depth certainly is an issue. The 49ers were down to four defensive linemen at one point. During the regular season you can work with that, during the preseason, it's kind of crazy.
Mike Purcell was the most disappointing in the group on Thursday, and that will be something to track next week. Do the 49ers roll Quinton Dial out with more nose tackle work to see what they can do with him. I am going to go back and take a look at all his and Tank's snaps later this weekend. They both seemed fairly physical at times, but at times the front seven as a whole seemed a bit gassed.
After the game, Coach Harbaugh was asked about Quinton Dial's 10-tackle, 2 forced fumble performance. Rather than talk about that, he discussed how the defense got pushed around and were looking a little tired as the game wore on. That is certainly a concern, but I also am willing to go a little more glass half full and consider that this was such a new unit out there.