After watching the 49ers lose 30-7 to the Texans on Saturday night it was hard to pinpoint the mistakes they need to work on the most. The 49ers in all aspects failed in the game not only on the field but on the sidelines. Part of the reason why the 49ers offense and defense looked lost on most of the plays was because head coach Jim Harbaugh’s unique substitution pattern. Harbaugh rotated second-stringer players against the Texans first-string units in the first-half. Harbaugh was trying to get a better look at backups against stronger competition but that signaled early on he was not thinking first of winning the game. There were plenty of mistakes by the players but Harbaugh handicapped the team with a strategy that did not work.
The most glaring mistakes in the loss came from the offensive line, who is becoming this preseason’s Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In week one against the Saints the O-line could not pickup the blitz and in week two they played significantly better allowing the running game to rush for over 200 yards. The Texans defensive line manhandled and overpowered the 49ers offensive line. Pass protection broke down early on plays and the running game managed only 55 rushing yards. What was the most concerning with the offensive line was their lack of technique and basic fundamentals. The 49ers have veteran players on the O-line which makes the errors confusing. The only explanation I can think of is the line is still grasping the new offense.
Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick switched off playing with the first-team offense and were pressured all game and did not play well as a result. Combined the 49ers quarterbacks completed 8 of 22 passes, for 69 yards with two interceptions. The numbers were not good for Smith as I expected a much better game than just two completions for 17 yards. Much of the blame goes to the offensive line as Smith was sacked twice and hit five times when dropping back for passes. The two completions Smith did manage to make were a rollout and a quick slant which didn’t allow the Texans defensive line to get to the QB.
Kaepernick attempted more passes than Smith going 6 for 16 with 52 passing yards but still looked like a rookie. The few times the offensive line gave Kaepernick time to throw was in the third drive of the game when he completed his longest throw, a 15-yard pass to TE Delaine Walker. Kaepernick squander a chance to complete a deep throw over the middle to WR Braylon Edwards, instead he threw an interception to Texans S Troy Nolan. The INT was returned 73 yards for a score. Kaepernick stared Edwards down on the play which was a rookie mistake that put the game out of reach for the 49ers.
The way Smith and Kaepernick played did not make me feel any better about the coming season at quarterback. It was one thing to worry about Smith being the starter. Now we have to worry about the offensive line not giving Smith the time to make play, that’s a whole new set of problems.
RB Frank Gore did not play even though he was in uniform. Gore is clearly not happy with a lack of a contract extension so it is hard to read into him not playing. Could the 49ers be shopping Gore and that’s the reason why he did not play? RB Kendall Hunter gained 40 yards on eight carries which was far less impressive than his performance last week.
The 49ers defense started out the game on a great note with LB Ahmad Brooks’ 13-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first play of the game. The defenses success ended there. The defense allowed 417 yards as Texans QB Matt Schaub showed what a true number one quarterback looks like posting 180 passing yards with one touchdown. The defense is a less of a concern than the offense but giving up 172 rushing yards shows they still have a ways to go.
With only one game left in the preseason and two weeks before the start of the regular season the 49ers look lost and like a team trying to figure out what they are doing. The offense and defense is struggling to learn the new playbook and Harbaugh showed in the loss to the Texans he is a rookie coach. The 49ers did not manage another score against the Texans after scoring four seconds into the game and had only four snaps in Texans territory and zero in the second half. In three preseason games the 49ers have scored only 27 points with only one offensive touchdown, a 53-yard run by Hunter. If you are not on the ‘I am concerned about the 49ers this season’ train, I suggest you hop on, but hold on. If preseason is any indication the season ride is going to be a bumpy ride.