sharesShare this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Google+ Share this on Tumblr Flip into Flipboard Share this on Reddit Share via SMS Share via Email
Preseason football is so difficult to extract information out of. Teams are playing bland schemes with unusual combinations of personnel and that makes for an ambiguous measuring stick to judge your own team's performance. That being said, it was good to finally see the Chip Kelly-edition 49ers take the field and at least give us a feel for what this will look like. It wasn't the most impressive outing and although technically meaningless, it's still a better feel to win the game than to start things off with a loss. The first half had some good storylines and here's some other things I walked away with after watching the first kinda/sorta contest of the year.
- This no huddle thing is going to take some getting used to but you can definitely see how it would give an offense the advantage. The offense didn't light up the scoreboard obviously, but I was impressed that there weren't more penalties with the high-tempo approach. Having watched the Harbaugh/Tomsula teams the last few years, false starts and delay of games were pretty commonplace and the first half of last night's game was a pleasant surprise. The Houston defense looked pressured and unprepared for what was coming at them a lot of the time.
- The offensive roster lends itself better to this system than I previously thought. Harbaugh and Tomsula were pretty conventional thinkers in terms of scheme and formations. Chip Kelly is obviously anything but traditional and there was much made about his work with Nick Foles as a passer, but Kelly has a strong desire to run the ball and that was something this team was already supposed to be able to do. In their first outing in the Kelly system, virtually all the backs had success with varying combinations of offensive lineman. Hopefully that will provide a cornerstone for the rest of the offense to take shape and give the quarterback some options against softer coverages.
- How effective this defense will be is still anyone's guess. Last year, they were probably a better unit than the stats would indicate, but the offense was so grossly inept that the defense didn't have much chance to catch their breath. Hopefully, that will be good practice for this year when they're likely to be on the field more due to Kelly's no-huddle scheme. However, the team has serious concerns about stopping the run with a very unproven defensive line group that's sorely missing NT Ian Williams. The Texans had pretty decent success on the ground in the first half against what is supposed to be the 49ers' starting front seven. There's a lot of question marks in the defensive backfield as well, but it would seem that unit has been playing above expectations and could be the strength of this defensive grouping.
- The offensive line looks to be a much better situation than it was the last year and a half. Seeing Anthony Davis in uniform again is kind of a shock, but the options he gives the team at guard and tackle are significant if he returns to form quickly. A lot of people also knocked the Niners for drafting Joshua Garnett too high, but he looks very strong at the guard position and was better in pass protection than some may have expected. Staley is a given and Kilgore is a significantly more consistent player than Marcus Martin was last year when he took over due to injury.
- None of this will matter much if the quarterback situation doesn't get markedly better over the next three weeks. The nicest thing to be said about Blaine Gabbert last night was that he was inconsistent. Some good throws and some really, really bad ones over the first few series he played did nothing to put any fan's worries at ease. However, it's looking increasingly more like Gabbert will be the starter for Week 1 and he needs to find his rhythm in a hurry. As mentioned before, Kelly loves to run the ball, but he needs the threat of at least a competent passing game to keep teams honest and not load the tackle box with eight defenders. Last night's performance from the presumptive starter does not qualify and it's hard to believe anybody behind him would do much better. More time and practice will help, but Kelly cannot be satisfied with the production from his most important position on the field.
In summary, there were some good things in last night's game to point to and it's clear that this is a completely different culture and system that's being put in place. However, there's still a lot of question marks on this roster that need to provide unexpected results in order for this team to ascend from the depths they fell to the last two seasons. The NFL is a league where any team can surprise you, but the smart money and fans that have watched decades of football can see that the 49ers are still a work in progress that will be at least one more draft away from being a real threat in their division.