San Francisco won their first preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers 15-10 on Sunday. The defense played well as the defensive line feasted, and a few young defensive backs had impressive plays.
However, the 49ers still have a quarterback battle with no front runner, and the receiver battle has been one to note. Richie James Jr. and Travis Benjamin are the final two receivers to look out for to make the team.
Here are my takeaways from the Niners' second preseason game.
Quarterback battle still stagnant
Jimmy Garoppolo started the game playing at a high level until the high throw on the interception. Garoppolo was decisive early as he took what the defense gave to him. His best play came when the pocket collapsed, and Garoppolo responded by scrambling for a gain of ten yards.
Trey Lance had an inconsistent night to start, but he scored on two out of three drives once he got settled. Lance has to monitor his velocity on throws cautiously. The interception intended for Mohamed Sanu just had too much heat on it for a receiver to be wide open.
After the interception, Lance had another near interception when targeting Charlier Woerner. Another play of concern was when Lance got sacked. It looked like he was not aware of who was around him and was almost strip-sacked.
If Trey Lance had a cleaner game, he would have had a better argument for moving the needle in replacing Garoppolo as the starting QB.
Trey Lance bounces back from a rocky start
When the offense ran the ball after a Lance completion with a minute left in the second quarter, I figured Lance would not get a chance to score. But, after gaining 21 yards on the two runs, head coach Kyle Shanahan called timeout and dialed up a great play for Lance.
Lance delivered a ball with great touch to Trent Sherfield to set up the touchdown before the half. Then, with time winding down to get into the endzone, Lance was also poised with his next two throws.
The defensive line plays well
It’s been obvious throughout camp that the defensive line is the strongest group on the team. And they displayed that with their four sacks and seven QB hits against the Chargers. Kentavius Street played well, garnishing two tackles for loss and a sack.
San Franciso’s defensive line will have to be stout all season. Questions with depth at defensive back could be answered with a consistent pass rush. If the team can continuously disrupt the QB, it will take pressure off all the defensive backs.
After the game, Zack Kerr said, “this is probably gonna sound a little cheesy, but this is the best, the fastest d-line I’ve ever been part of. It’s scary.” Each sack came from a different member of the defensive line.
Kyle Shanahan has a tough choice to make when making roster cuts along the defensive line. I wonder if the 49ers would trade one of these players and receive compensation instead of outright releasing them. The team is that deep along the defensive line.
Young defensive backs improving
Having the young defensive backs is great for a unit that has had questions through training camp. Deommondre Lenoir had a nice pass break up on the third down of the Chargers' first drive. Lenoir has continued to outplay Ambry Thomas, who gave up a big pass and was called for defensive pass interference.
Kai Nacua flashed his athleticism when he was blitzed from the edge for a sack. Nacua also looked solid in coverage when at post safety.
Jared Mayden had a pick-six nullified by penalty. Good for Mayden to make a play, who could be a reserve safety this season. Look for Nacua and Mayden to fight for the opportunity to make the 53-man roster.
Receiver battle continues to boil
With Jauan Jennings out, other receivers had the chance to raise their stock. Travis Benjamin is entering his ninth year in the NFL. His receiving touchdown did not raise his stock, but he will be a player to watch closely during practice and next week against the Raiders. Benjamin’s ability to get behind the defense could be enough for him to make the team.
Richie James’ roster spot is being held on by his special team's contributions. James will need to show consistency with his hands to make the team. Benjamin has more upside than James, increasing the pressure for James to step up.
The quarterback debate will happen until Lance clearly unseats Garoppolo. Then, when Lance shows consistency in his throws, he will separate himself in the battle. Remember, we still haven't seen Lance use his legs.
Defensive line play has been one of the most talked-about things during camp. Seeing those guys get after the QB was uplifting, but Los Angles had plenty of starters out on the offensive line. The defensive line needs to keep the energy up for the Raiders.
Defensive backs and receivers have received questions all training camp to see who will step up. In addition, the rookie cornerbacks are still developing and there could be a new emerging name in the safety room with Jared Mayden or Kai Nacua.