So it’s only preseason you say?
Yeah, it is only preseason and It looked real preseason last night.
The San Francisco 49ers fell victim to the Baltimore Ravens 23-3, only this time, the game didn’t really matter. Short of bragging rights, the first preseason game is usually reserved for the … reserves. But even the Ravens reserves out reserved the 49ers reserves.
QUARTERBACKS – (D-)
If you managed to make it through all 4 quarters you probably said this to yourself at some point last night, “I sure hope Kaepernick doesn’t get injured”. Yikes!
Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco both started but each played only one drive. Colin’s drive ended in familiar fashion to a lot of good drives last year, with only a field goal. Joe Flacco showed us why he is worth $120 million. Well maybe not so much, but at least his opening drive saw the Ravens to the endzone and the first touchdown of the night for B’more. Blaine Gabbert on the other-hand, poor Blaine Gabbert. He started off with a few positives, but followed that up with consistently poor play for the entire 1st and 2nd quarters. Gabbert was inaccurate going 3 for 11 with an INT thrown and looked unsure of himself in the huddle.
Third string QB Josh Johnson may be a better option than Gabbert. Johnson threw 6 completions on 8 attempts for 63 yards. but he also displayed his speed when he scrambled for a quick 15 yards. Johnson also showed the most poise in the pocket, despite fumbling in the 3rd quarter. 4th stringer McLeod Bethel-Thompson looked as good as a 4th stringer can look, and that was pretty bad. His final throw of the game resulted in an interception that saw the Ravens run out the remaining 3:23 on the clock to end the game.
RUNNING BACKS – (C-)
A bright spot of the night on offense for the 49ers was second round pick Carlos Hyde. Though he only played in the first quarter Hyde looked very “Frank Gore-ish” in his 5 carries for 39 yards. With Kendall Hunter done for the year, Hyde looks to be that guy. Hyde also showed good football IQ by picking up a blitzing Ravens rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley, allowing Gabbert to complete a pass to Stevie Johnson in the 1st quarter.
Backup Jewel Hampton was ineffective rushing for 18 yards on 8 carries but Hampton also failed to pick up rushers in passing protection, twice leading to hits on QB Josh Johnson, one a sack, the other resulted in a fumble. If not for Carlos Hyde, I doubt the 49ers would have had 71 rushing yards as a group. By-the-way, 15 of those were from QB Josh Johnson.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS – (D)
The receiving core for the 49ers were silent for most of the game. Rookie receiver, Bruce Ellington, was the leading receiver on the stat sheet with 3 receptions for 35 yards on 3 targets. Ellington also played a role in special teams returning 2 kickoffs for 62 yards and showed a little spark in an otherwise lifeless passing game. 2nd-year TE Vance McDonald had 2 receptions on 2 targets and those came in the 1st quarter. Newly acquired WR Stevie Johnson showed a willingness to block in the run game helping spring Hyde to the 7 yard line as the 49ers pressed into the redzone on their opening drive. Johnson only played the first series but he did have a rare reception. After the 2nd quarter, the receiving group, even when blocking, did not make an impact in the game.
OFFENSIVE LINE – (D-)
The 49ers offensive line also showed inconsistency. While Carlos Hyde ran well early, he did it running to the left behind starters Joe Staley and Mike Iupati. The right side of Joe Looney and Jonathan Martin looked suspicious for most of the first half. The backups weren’t much better. The 49ers ran well on the left side later in the game but that is also where the pressure from the rush eventually caused a fumble for QB Josh Johnson. The line only gave up 2 sacks, but it was a lack of physicality and lack of drive in the running game that gives them the low grade.
DEFENSIVE LINE – (B+)
The 49ers did shine on defense with lots of new and first year faces stepping up making plays. Second year player Quinton Dial led the way with 10 total tackles, 5 of those were solo. Mike Purcell had 9 total, 1 solo tackles. 49ers DT Glenn Dorsey suffered a complete tear of his bicep during training camp and the 49ers will need Dial and others to step up as backups to Ray McDonald who did not play. Second-year player Tank Carradine made his NFL debut and played well throughout the game. Carradine had 8 total tackles, 4 solo and 1 sack and looks like a great prospect. Former British Olympic disc-thrower, Lawrence Okoye, also made his 49ers debut, but Okoye couldn’t finish the night after having his left ankle rolled up while trying to make a play in the 3rd quarter. I should note Justin Smith didn’t dress.
LINEBACKERS – (B-)
Not good, not bad. 49ers third-round rookie linebacker Chris Borland got the start and showed good versatility playing throughout the game and on special teams. Borland only had 2 total tackles and seemed slow to react, at times late to recover once resulting in a 17 yard pick up for the Ravens when he bit on the play-action. 3rd year player Michael Wilhoite made a real case for the starting spot next to Patrick Willis this year although Nick Moody will be on his heels challenging for that spot. Dan Skuta who made a good impression last year, got the start on the outside spot where Aldon Smith would play but only made 1 tackle. Also rookie free-agent Shayne Skov of Stanford fame was seen calling plays in the defensive huddle. I will add that the linebacking group looked uncomfortable when defending the pass and failed to penetrate the Ravens O-Line to get pressure in the backfield all game. Aside from the occasional nice play, the group got pushed around a lot of the time.
DEFENSIVE BACKS – (C)
Surely an area of concern coming into the preseason was with the secondary, especially the cornerbacks. I did not see much reassurance, however, the secondary wasn’t challenged as the Ravens elected to run the ball, which they did efficiently throughout the game. Chris Culliver and recently signed Chris Cook, got the start at corner while newly added Antoine Bethea joined Eric Reid as the starting safeties. Cook recorded the first interception in his 5-year NFL career. Cook sat on a route and read the QBs eyes making an excellent read and intercepting the pass. Rookie first-round pick Jimmie Ward played in nickel back and was welcomed to the NFL in the first quarter when Jacoby Jones, a 6 foot 2 inch, 215 pound WR, showed size can trump even the most zealous of undersized defensive backs. Jones broke inside on a slant route beating Ward with good hands to get inside position and a 12-yard pick up. Ward did make one of the few plays in the backfield for the 49ers defense, stuffing the run on a blitz for a loss of 4. That play preceded a sack by Michael Wilholte on the next play, ending the Ravens second drive in only a FG.
SPECIAL TEAMS – (D+)
Aside from the field goal by Phil Dawson on the opening drive the game went through the foot of Andy Lee and rookie Colton Schmidt. Both combined for 5 total punts netting 224 yards of distance. Bruce Ellington showed potential in the kick return game. The special teams was not a factor, doing well to cover on punts not giving up a big play, but not much to talk about here.
So in a nutshell – this is what preseason football looks like. The fact of the matter is, the game didn’t matter. Next weeks game won’t matter either, but it does help build momentum and confidence from a team perspective. You want to see your reserves play well so you have an idea of who can backup who, but you don’t want injuries. The 49ers suffered a few nicks and bruises with Lawrence Okoye being the most serious injury. From a confidence stand point the offensive line will need to find their resolve in the next game as well as the back up QBs and RBs for the 49ers.