The 49ers defeated the Vikings on Friday night 17-6 in their first preseason game of the season. It was a game with little excitement but a lot of solid play from the 49ers. Here is a rundown of the top storylines from the game.
1. The Running Backs
This 49er team has a lot of good running backs. In the first quarter alone we got a taste of Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, Rock Cartwright and even some LaMichael James on kick returns. That is four running backs in the starting rotation, not even counting Pro Bowl starter Frank Gore who didn’t play. The 49ers are very deep at the running back position and judging from this
game, it looks like they plan on mixing and matching each of those running backs in order to highlight their unique skill sets. Rock Cartwright impressed the most tonight with a couple of big runs, although he will likely head into the season as the fullback. Jacobs impressed as well with some nice runs in short yardage situations, including a 4th and 1 conversion on the first drive of the game. Dixon got the bulk of the carries late in the game but his chances of making the team seem pretty difficult at this point.
2. Colin Kaepernick Can Run
By far the biggest play of the game was the play action boot leg right from Colin Kaepernick. The entire defense broke to the left, including the safeties, allowing Kaepernick to run 78 yards down field for the touchdown. He outraced the corner all the way down field and it was easy to forget for a moment that this was a quarterback running down field. It was an electric, exciting play set up by a great play fake from the whole offense. Kaepernick would scramble two more times for 14 more yards and it is safe to say he looked more comfortable running than passing, bringing me to my next point…
3. Kaepernick Still Can’t Play Quarterback
Yeah the run was nice, and he made a couple short passes eventually, but Kaepernick looked like a runner out there for most the night, not a guy who can throw the ball down field. Too often he didn’t see open receivers down field, would scramble and either dump the ball off short too early or throw the ball away. He missed throws. There is a reason that Josh Johnson is the presumable number 2 quarterback on this team and it was obvious watching Kaepernick play in this game. The legs are great, the arm not so much.
That being said, it wouldn’t be surprising to at all to see Kaepernick come into games this season in wildcat and slash formations. His skill set right now lends itself perfectly for these kinds of trick plays where he can line up with Smith on the field and confuse defenses with his legs. This scenario is the only chance Kapernick has to see the field this season.
4. The Defense Is Still Solid
There was one 52 yard strike early in the game. The 49ers lined up 8 in the box, relying on Carlos Rogers in man coverage. Rogers got beat pretty badly by Burton then looked around as if he was expecting safety help.
Besides this one play, the 49ers defense looked just as great as it did last year. They didn’t force any turnovers until the 4th quarter, but they consistently got pressure on the quarterback, kept the run game in check and only allowed six points in the game. Aldon Smith was the biggest difference in the personnel. He is transitioning from a situational player to an every down player and looked pretty good. He flushed out the quarterback on a 3rd down play early to force a field goal. On a run to the left by Toby Gerhart, Smith tripped over teammate Donte Whitner but was still able to trip up Gerhart for a short gain. Smith would suffer a hip bruise on the play, but Harbaugh told the media after the game he expects him to be fine.
5. Harbaugh Will Stay Conservative This Preseason
Anyone who thought we would get a taste of Alex Smith using his new toys this preseason was likely disappointed with the game. Smith completed only 3 passes for a total of 16 yards. A 3 yard pass to Crabtree, a short dump off to Hunter and a short touchdown pass in the corner to Swain. The rest of the drive was a steady dose of run run run. Smith worked this off-season to tweak his stance in hopes of throwing more accurate deep passes. Fans and opposing defense will likely have to wait until the regular season to find out how successful that change has been.
The 49ers would throw the ball a little more with Tolzien in the game, but for the most part it was short dump offs to the running backs and 5-10 yard passes to the receivers. The 49ers will strike down field more often this season, just not in the preseason.