San Francisco couldn't quite recreate the same winning formula they had the week prior against the Vikings. Credit the Houston Texans, as they made the San Francisco 49ers look like an average football team all night long, but sometimes it's a little all to obvious that the 49ers don't do any preseason game-planning.
At the same time, I can't imagine many coaches plan for the preseason. If they do, it has to be minimal. Individual performances should be and will always be the key to exhibition games.
We learned that offensively the quarterbacks and wide receivers failed to get on the same page, as busted routes and overthrows plagued San Francisco's passing game.
Let's break down the rest of the core performances and take a look at who was earning their paycheck and who needs to step their game up.
Quarterback Play: Alex Smith
The first-team offensive line didn't do starter Alex Smith any favors, as he was under constant duress most of the first quarter. However, that didn't stop him from making a couple of big plays in limited action.
The biggest had to have been on the 49ers' opening drive. Smith was in shotgun with only five yards to go, but as Antonio Smith was barring down on him he found Tedd Ginn Jr. in a big way down the sideline for 24 yards.
Pre-snap, Ginn is playing in the right wide receiver position with Mario Manningham bunched behind him.
The Texans defense was in zone on this play, which allowed Ginn to run a zone beater. The 49ers had to have been expecting the zone coverage, so he ran down the field until he found a soft spot in the zone. It appeared he had to run 25 yards until he got down to the Texans' 30-yard line and sat down in between Brice McCain and Troy Nolan.
The great route running of Ginn was set up with an even better throw that was thrown off Smith's back foot while he was falling away on the run. A truly impressive throw that few quarterbacks can make on a consistent basis.
In the full-speed clip below the quarterback, wide receiver combo make the play look so smooth and effortless.
Run Blocking: Mike Iupati
As I mentioned earlier, the pass protection for Alex Smith was less than acceptable. However, all five starting offensive linemen showed that they could move people in the run game. The most impressive of the bunch was 330-pound left guard Mike Iupati.
Iupati had some monster second-level blocks on the Texans' linebackers. On this particular play he kicked out to the outside of left tackle Joe Staley. After he got around Staley he bee lined straight for middle linebacker Brian Cushing. Once he engaged with him it was all over, as he drove him back five yards.
Later in the first quarter, Iupati is at it again. This time it was straight up field, no kick out. He drives back linebacker Bradie James for two or three yards which opens up a big hole for Jacobs.
His athleticism and quickness make him one of the top pulling guards in the NFL. The explosion out of his stance and hand position as he engages a defender are textbook. Last year he was considered a top-10 guard, but with more experience and improved play, I look for him to take that next step.
Route Running: A.J. Jenkins
Rookie A.J. Jenkins has been under some intense scrutiny from the media since the 49ers drafted him in April.
Nine days into training camp, head coach Jim Harbaugh apparently had enough of Jenkins' critics as he ripped them a new one once he approached the podium. Here's a quote from his July 30 press conference (via Matt Maiocco, CSN Bay Area):
A.J Jenkins was an outstanding football player when he got here, his progress has been very, very good, and exceeded expectations. For those — the scribes, pundits, so-called experts — who have gone so far as to say that he’s going to be a bust, should just stop. I recommend that because they’re making themselves look more clueless than they already did.
Albeit it was against the Texans' scrubs and no box score numbers reflected it, but Jenkins showed monumental improvement in the second preseason game. He only caught one ball, but his ability to get open was astonishing.
His only catch of the night came on a nine route down the left sideline from backup quarterback Josh Johnson.
One of the most underrated aspects of that play is his spacing on the route. Quite often a receiver or tight end will run that nine route too close to the sideline. When that happens, the ball usually sails out of bounds or the coverage presses the receiver to tight rope the sideline.
Jenkins gives himself plenty of room to allow Johnson to lead him, which in turn aids his separation ability.
Now that he has proper spacing, he can worry less about where he's at and focus more on catching the ball. As the beautiful throw lands over his shoulder, check out how much room he still has left. A perfectly executed throw and catch.
Coverage Skills: Tramaine Brock
With the good always comes the bad, and Tramaine Brock had a majority of the bad as he tried to cover Texans wideout Lester Jean. Jean caught four balls for 42 yards.
Brock struggled with his ball skills and route recognition all game long, especially on this 2nd-and-7 play from the 50-yard line.
Brock's biggest disadvantage from the get-go was the cushion he provided to Jean. A seven-yard cushion to a big receiver will let him dictate where he wants to go. By no means am I saying it would have been smart for Brock to jam him, because that's a battle he will surely lose, yet he should have been two or three yards closer.
And after the ball was snapped, what did Jean do as Brock was caught in his backpedal? He dictated exactly where he wanted to go by running straight at him as if he was hitting the nine route. But once Brock flipped his hips to cover the vertical, Jean stopped on a dime and Schaub hit him on the comeback.
As Jean was catching the ball, Brock had just gotten fully turned around and into position. Overall, good route running, but equally poor coverage and awareness.
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