Right before kickoff last night of the 49ers vs. Chargers game I was not sure what to expect from the 49ers offense. Would we see the offensive line from games one and three of the preseason? Or would we see glimpses of week two against the Raiders were the O-line helped the offense rush for over 200 yards? The 49ers have looked nowhere near ready for the regular season in the previous preseason games. Last night’s win was a step in the right direction as the offense lead by Alex Smith who was able to march down the field and actually score touchdowns. While last night’s play was encouraging there is still doubt on how the 49ers will play in week one of the regular season when it counts.
The 49ers offense this preseason has been near to non-existent which is a nice way of saying the offense has sucked it up. The 49ers offense managed to score two touchdowns in the first quarter on the first two drives of last night’s game. The offense only managed two offensive touchdowns in the previous three games. The offensive line had a lot to do with the 49ers success against the Chargers as they did not allow a sack and kept pressure off of Smith when he was in the game. While this was the final preseason game with many of the Chargers starters were resting or played in limited time, it is encouraging to see the O-line play well and carry that confidence into week one of the season.
With running back Frank Gore not playing due to rest we had one last chance to see who would be the number two RB behind Gore. While Anthony Dixon did score a TD on two, one-yard rushes, and finished with 45 yards on 13 carries, rookie RB Kendall Hunter cemented his status as the backup to Gore. Hunter did his best impression of Gore by rushing 11 times for 57 yards with a 21 yard gain being since longest rush of the night. Not only will Hunter most likely be the number two RB he has also played well enough to be the returner for kickoffs. Hunter ran back a kickoff for 51 yards in the second quarter.
The key to the 49ers offense being effective is confidence. Mainly this is an issue with Alex Smith but when the offense is able to march 80 yards on 14-plays on the game’s opening drive, Smith not only gains confidence but so does the O-line and the rest of the offense. With the offense having confidence the O-line blocked well for Smith to finish 8 of 10 passing for 45 yards. Smith looked good on the first two drives and then he came out of the game. It is hard to guess if Smith would have continued playing well throughout the game especially given the fact that the Chargers were resting their starters. The West Coast offense is known for the short passes, something which Smith is good at, but in the game he did not complete a pass over nine-yards. I think this could continue to be an issue for the 49ers passing game in the regular season. Consistency is one of the things Smith needs to work on but unfortunately in the preseason we do not get to see if he has overcome this. We will have to wait until the regular season as Smith was named the starter for week one after the game by Jim Harbaugh.
The 49ers defense continued to play well although they did give up 154 rushing yards, with 78 yards given up to Chargers starting RB Ryan Matthews. Chargers QB Philip Rivers was resting and did not start however the 49ers did cause a turnover in the opening drive of the game. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman sacked Chargers QB Billy Volek causing a fumble which he recovered at the Chargers 22-yard line. Seven plays later the fumble recovery lead to the 49ers second touchdown of the game.
Despite it being the last preseason game, all in all the 49ers win was good sign for the team as they head into the regular season against the Seahawks. The 49ers success this season is in the hands of the offensive line. If they can keep the pressure off of Alex Smith it will build up his confidence and he will be able to find open receivers on the short passes. Otherwise if the O-line does not play well the 49ers could be doomed early on in the season.