The 49ers lost to the Chiefs on Saturday night, but the score is the last thing we’ll remember. As head coach Kyle Shanahan said, “it’s all about the process and how they react to these situations.”
This was the first preseason game. Sixteen starters didn’t play, and a handful of others sat out. The execution was always going to be iffy, as was the pass protection. That’s to be expected.
Now, we watch the team grow and evolve while they look to clean up the fumbles and penalties. But, there was plenty of reason to be excited. There’s no doubt this 49ers team will be fun to watch and keep us on the edge of our seats all season. Here are five reasons to be optimistic after the first preseason game.
This is far and away the best supporting cast that Shanahan’s had
On Deebo Samuel’s first touch, he made a guy miss and gained nine yards after the catch for a first down. On Brandon Aiyuk’s first touch, he ran for eight yards.
One of the players who received the most hype throughout training camp was Trent Sherfield, who caught an 80-yard bomb. Jauan Jennings caught two screens that went down as rushes for 23 yards. He also had another catch for 26 yards.
Add in Charlie Woerner, who ran a nice route on the play, and his 34-yard gain and the jitterbug that’s Nsimba Webster, and you can’t help but get excited for Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance.
There are many playmakers on this roster, and that’s before we get to the team’s stars like George Kittle and Raheem Mostert. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of points for the Niners' offense this season.
“Ah, you’re in good hands”
When asked about his impressions of Trey Lance, Kansas City Chiefs head coach said, “Ah, you’re in good hands. Yeah, he’s a good player. He looked very poised, composed, and he had a nice play on the firecracker there that he shot down the field.”
Lance’s box score leaves a lot to be desired, as he went 5-14 and had four sacks. However, Shanahan only blamed the red zone sack on Lance. He stated that “it would have been tough to, especially some of the down and distance we were in” to avoid the other three sacks.
What stood out more than anything was how Lance kept his eyes down the field and didn’t flinch in the face of a pass-rush. I loved watching his helmet go from receiver to receiver as Lance went through his progressions. That type of pocket presence was more impressive than the throws because it tells you that Lance is comfortable playing in the pocket.
There were misses and near interceptions. Nobody is arguing against that. But, unfortunately, some perfectly placed passes led to drops that took Lance and the offense out of rhythm.
We’re spoiled to get a first-hand look at Lance and be able to watch him evolve.
The ceiling for the pass-rush is scary to think about
The Chiefs had a team offensive EPA of -10.13 (the 49ers were -5.52, for comparison) and were sacked four times and pressured several other times.
On a couple of occasions, I noticed that defensive tackle Kevin Givens was this close to blowing up the play in the backfield. Nevertheless, the duo of Givens and Maurice Hurst gives the Niners a formidable backup duo.
I’d say Arden Key had the best day of any defensive lineman, though. He was an inch away from a strip-sack and was winning around the edge at will. Key’s had a fantastic camp, and I would love to know what the Raiders were thinking between letting Key and Hurst walk.
It was only one preseason game, but Key has played like this all training camp. He gets around the edge with speed and forces the QB to step up for flushes him from the pocket, leading to good things for the defense. Key feels like the best version of Ronald Blair — a backup edge rusher who can give you productive snaps while also giving you five sacks.
The rotation upfront is an embarrassment of riches once the starters take the field. However, I feel confident that the 49ers' defensive line will win them a game or two this season. Just wait until they’re hitting on all cylinders come midseason.