The San Francisco 49ers have entered the second half and after finishing a drive with the offense, Jimmy Garoppolo’s day is done. The defense is starting to rotate players in more frequently, so it looks like our preseason sample of the 2018 San Francisco 49ers is complete. There’s a lot to like about this team, but their play today ranks average.
Richard Sherman returned to the field for the first time since his ankle injury in 2017, but it wasn’t Sherman we need to talk about. Things began on the very first drive with a sack by a swarm of 49ers defenders consisting of DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Cassius Marsh and Jeremy Attaochu. I’d hate to be that guy, but the Colts offensive line isn’t exactly a brick wall, but we got a sack in the first four plays. This is the 49ers defense. Progress.
The second drive, the defense again got a stop before midfield thanks to a nicely defended pass by Ahkello Witherspoon. Comparing this defense to the defense we’ve seen the last two preseason games is like apples to oranges.
Later on in the 2nd quarter, there was also a battle for a single yard. It led to the Colts going for it on 4th down. The 49ers went into a run defense, but the Colts busted out play action and picked up the first. Honestly, it wasn’t a bad defensive play-call by the 49ers considering it was 4th and inches, it was just a good play-call by the Colts.
The only nuance to the defense was the line being unable to keep up with quarterback Andrew Luck’s scrambles. Several times the line would get bounced around, opening up lanes for Luck to take off. with around nine minutes to go in the half, there was a rather embarrassing one where Luck picked up the 12 or so yards for a first down. If Luck can have his way with this group, Russell Wilson has got to be licking his chops for all the running he can do. To be fair, it seems like these scrambles also had some holding (which the refs wouldn’t call since they are more focused on helmet hits), but it still sparks concerns.
Some positional things: D.J. Jones and Sheldon Day got some first team work. It probably is nothing but some experience for younger guys, but this is something for us to watch how Earl Mitchell is impacted from this.
Offensively, there was some great production as well. We’ll start with the newest running back acquisition, Alfred Morris, who may have put Joe Williams and Jeremy McNichols out of a job in as early as the first drive. In just a handful of plays, Morris showed better efficiency and ability than Morris or McNichols showed in all of the Texans game. He further went just gobbling up yardage about every other play
It was the second drive where things started. Garoppolo hit Pierre Garçon (finally) to have a long run down the field to get the 49ers into their first red zone trip. The big problem with the 49ers in their sample size was drops. Besides an overthrow to Marquise Goodwin, and another to Cole Hikutini, Garoppolo seemed to be threading the needle just fine, if only his receivers could catch the ball. This tweet by Matt Barrows sums up the 49ers after the second drive.
Garoppolo 2-6* on first two series.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) August 25, 2018
* with three drops
There were two issues really noticeable by the offense. First, Jimmy Garoppolo had some awful, awful throws, a couple of which that should have been picked off. Towards the end of the half on a gifted penalty, Garoppolo threw two strange passes, one of which was in the other direction as you could see an offensive player running open.
The other issue, by extension, the 49ers could not finish drives. They went for it on 4th down once in the red zone (failing) and a key Cole Hikutini drop forced a field goal for another trip. If the wide receivers can work on catching the ball and scoring some points, this 49ers offense will be absolutely lethal.
The offense did come back to the field with a drive to start the 3rd quarter, but again, key dropped passes stalled their drives and kept them from even crossing midfield.
Despite the miscues, the offense had its flashes and looked quite solid. Their issue in this game was scoring points, and I feel quite strange saying I call the offense solid after watching them leave 14 points on the field, but there was a lot to like out of this group. The play-calling was solid it was just the execution that held them back.
At right guard, Mike Person and Joshua Garnett rotated in and out at the position. As far as line collapses, there wasn’t anything I would call severe. By that I mean the line wasn’t paper thin on every drop back. We’ll break the Garnett/Person competition down after we can watch it a few more times.
I don’t know why I’m optimistic about a team that has only six points going into half, but there was a lot, an awful lot I liked about the 49ers on both sides of the ball. The team seems solid and ready for the regular season once they do some extensive gameplanning and have a full roster of starters to shoulder.