The 49ers started their preseason schedule with a 17-6 win over the Vikings with the rushing attack leading the way. The 49ers outrushed the Vikings 260 to 82, with 162 of those yards coming in the first two drives that ended in touchdowns. Despite the offense being led by the running game, the 49ers’ quarterbacks shined in the win.
Alex Smith, who is expected to be the regular season starter, only played in the opening drive and threw three passes, but he was impressive in the little time he was on the field. Smith engineered a 12-play, 84-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard fade to wide receiver Brett Swain in the end zone for a touchdown. Smith only had 16 passing yards but was 3-for-3 passing.
The opening drive was very much like the 49ers offense from last season, with the rushing attack leading the way. The 7-minute, 21-second opening drive saw Kendall Hunter (3 carries, 19 yards on drive) and Brandon Jacobs (3 carries, 28 yards) leading the way. Hunter, Jacobs and Rock Cartwright, combined for 69 rushing yards on the opening driving. The touchdown pass to Swain was set up by a 19-yard run by Cartwright and a 14-yard run by Hunter on the previous two plays. The 49ers will have more of passing game this season with all of the new additions at wide receiver. However, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman in the game showed the 49ers offense will still be led by Frank Gore and the running game this season. Gore, as expected, did not play in the game.
No. 2 backup quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, had the highlight of the game with a 78-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The play called was a read-option in which the quarterback either hands it off or tucks the football and runs depending on the defense. Kaepernick ran plenty of read-option plays in college where he was the only quarterback in NCAA history to have three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Kaepernick was 5-for-9 pass with 40 yards passing and finished with 90 yards rushing. The interesting part of the game for Kaepernick was the fact that all nine of his passing attempts were either in the shotgun formation or had him rolling out of the pocket. His biggest weakness throwing is doing so while staying in the pocket. You would think the 49ers coaches would have Kaepernick work out the kinks as a pocket passer, but they might be holding out on unleashing him until the second or third preseason games, in order to build up his confidence.
Third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien was on the field the longest and was the most impressive QB in the game. Tolzien may not have Kaepernick’s speed; however, he is the better-rounded QB of the two. He finished the game 10-of-13 passing with 84 yards and no touchdowns. Despite Tolzien throwing an interception, he played well while in the pocket and showed great accuracy. His best play was a dropped pass by receiver Nathan Palmer. On the play, Tolzien was scrambling away from a safety blitz and waited until the last moment to release his throw as he was taking a hit. Palmer should have caught the pass but dropped what would have been a 20-yard completion.
Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss were two of the most anticipated players to watch in the game. Neither was factor which was the plan for the 49ers. Crabtree started the game and played only five snaps. He was targeted once which went for a 3-yard reception. Moss did not start and was targeted zero times in the game. On the third play for the 49ers offense, Moss entered the game and blocked on a running play on the opposite side of the field from him. The next play saw Moss clear out his side of the field with a fly route. Not much from either receiver, however, seeing Moss blocking someone on the field, willingly and successfully, was encouraging.
Rookie A.J. Jenkins’ first reception of the game was a beauty with a diving catch along the sideline for a 15-yard gain in the second quarter. Jenkins was targeted eight times and had two dropped passes. He finished with two catches for 20 yards. Jenkins was the receiver targeted the most (eight times) and that had a lot to do with him getting open which is a big development in his game.
Kyle Williams had two receptions for 12 yards; however, what was more interesting was the crowd booing him as he waited for his first punt return of the game in the second quarter. Despite the crowd, Williams averaged 14 yards on two punt returns.
In the backfield, Jacobs had the best day for the running backs even though he did not lead them in rushing yards. In fact, Jacobs only rushed four times for 31 yards, but all four rushes were for first downs. On the opening drive, Jacobs had a 3-yard run on fourth-and-1 to keep the opening drive alive. The running back showed he is still more than a short-yardage back with a 23-yard sprint on the opening drive. The 49ers will likely keep Jacobs in the role of a short-yardage RB, but it is good to see he still can run for big gains with his 264-pound frame.
Anthony Dixon was all over the field playing at fullback, halfback and on special teams as he fights for a roster spot. On special teams, Dixon showed he can block. But he failed to pick up the blitz multiple times while in at fullback. One led to a 6-yard rushing loss and another to a quarterback sack. At halfback, Dixon had the most carries (12) and rushing yards (48) among the running backs, but he averaged only 3.8 yards per rush. Dixon had a big mental mistake with just over two minutes left in the game. The 49ers offense was trying to run out the game clock when Dixon ran out of bounds, which stopped the clock. Not a mistake Dixon should be making with him being on the bubble of making the team.
The star on defense was outside linebacker Eric Bakhtiari who finished with four tackles and two sacks. Bakhtiari has never made a regular season roster and has been on the practice squads of seven different teams since entering the NFL in 2008. He is again fighting for a regular roster spot at a position the 49ers are well stacked. If Bakhtiari continues his dominate play in the next three preseason games, coaches will be forced to put him on the 53-man roster.
There was one injury to a starter which was outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Smith suffered a bruised hip in the first quarter and will be out “maybe week or so” according to Harbaugh. Smith did not return to the game after injuring himself while trying to tackle Vikings running back Toby Gerhart on a sweep. The injury is unrelated Smith’s stabbing injuries he suffered in June.
Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 5:00PM (PDT)