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The San Francisco 49ers picked up their first win of the 2014 preseason with a 21-7 defeat of the San Diego Chargers. Let's take a look at the bad and the good:
The starting offensive line - This group really struggled through the first three series today in both pass protection and run protection. The worst offender in pass protection may have been Mike Iupati. He was beat soundly by his man on a couple occasions and the 49ers were lucky that Colin Keapernick walked away unscathed.
This group is often referred to as one of the best run blocking lines in the NFL, but anyone who has watched closely the last two years knows that they have been very inconsistent. It wasn't until the second quarter that they were able to give the backs enough space to game more than three yards on a carry. On one play in the first quarter Joe Looney and Jonathan Martin were unable to get any movement on Kendall Reyes with a double team which shut the play down to only a minimal gain. There is just no excuse for two offensive linemen to not be able to push a single defensive lineman out of the hole.
Craig Dahl - The veteran was forced into the starting lineup due to a concussion suffered last week by starting strong safety Antione Bethea. Dahl has struggled in coverage throughout his career, and was beat badly by Antonio Gates down the right seam for a touchdown near the end of the first quarter.
Stevie Johnson - The veteran didn't enter the game until the backups began to substitute into the game. He proceeded to line up a full yard past the line of scrimmage and wiped out a completion to Bruce Ellington. There is no excuse for that type of mental error from a veteran player.
Jim Harbaugh's challenges - Harbaugh lost both of his challenges today and neither of them looked like they had a chance to be overturned. His track record with challenges isn't the best, and it would be nice to see him be a bit more judicial with the use of that red flag.
Marcus Martin - The rookie center has had a rough camp but had looked good last week against Denver and was playing well against San Diego before going down with a knee injury. There has been no word yet on the extent of the injury, but it may cause some scrambling along the offensive line to fill the spot behind Daniel Kilgore.
The starting defensive line - The change in play in the defense from the first two weeks to today was noticeable right away and this group had a lot to do with that improvement. Although they were on the field for 9:34 of the first quarter while the offense was sputtering, they helped the defense hold San Diego to only seven points.
Michael Wilhoite - Perhaps no player benefitted more from the starters returning to the defensive line and Patrick Willis than Wilhoite. He finished the day as the second leading tackler with five total, and showed much better overall than he had the previous two weeks.
Vance McDonald - A lot had been made early in camp about McDonald struggling to catch the football, but that has seemingly all gone away. Through the first three preseason games McDonald has put together consistent performances. On the 49ers first touchdown drive he made a very nice play going up and getting a pass that was sailing high from Blaine Gabbert. He then showed his versatility by finishing the drive off with a touchdown in the left flat after lining up as a fullback.
Aaron Lynch and Corey Lemonier - The two young pass rushers looked very strong, getting pressure on the Chargers backup quarterbacks repeatedly throughout the afternoon. Lynch finished the day with two tipped passes, a sack and a hit on the quarterback. Meanwhile Lemonier also recorded a sack and hit on the quarterback.
Blaine Gabbert - The veteran backup has struggled throughout preseason, but today he was excellent. Gabbert led the 49ers to their first touchdown of the preseason on a drive in the second quarter during which he was 5-6 for 55 yards and a touchdown. He finished the day with a quarterback rating of 110.4 and put a lid on any questions regarding who would be the backup to Colin Kaepernick this season.