Those who say the preseason doesn't matter are living world replete with misconceptions and skewed realities. Is it any coincidence that last season, only 4 teams went undefeated in the preseason. Three of the four made the playoffs. Two of them were the Panthers and the Patriots.

The preseason games serve as a way to examine the depth a team has. As anyone watching football over the last few years knows, depth wins championships. The Panthers would not have been able to get to the big dance without DeShaun Foster, Stephen Davis' back up. Last season the Falcons hopes for another playoff run were broken with Michael Vick's leg. If a team can't get production out of its second unit, if a team can't make a substitution because the level of play drops off dramatically, the 16-game marathon becomes almost impossible to endure.

How do the 49ers look so far this preseason? They look, well...blah. Here are a few highlights and lowlights from a 33-30 loss to the Raiders:      


1) It took me three quarters, but I finally figured out the 49ers new offensive strategy. It's diabolically simple, yet incredibly effective.

Throw the ball anywhere near a receiver, and pray for defensive contact.

That was the most effective thing the 49ers did all day against a Raider team that kept this game close because of a plethora of penalties; 215 yards worth of penalties to be exact. On Brandon Doman's touchdown scoring drive, he took the team 87 yards; of which 47 were handed over by the Raiders via defensive penalties.

The new "rule enforcement," as it has been dubbed, definitely helps this new strategy. Really, some of the calls the referees made on the Raider defensive backs were ridiculous. It seemed like if the defensive back's shadow touched the receiver the yellow laundry came out.

2) The 3-4 defense looks to be the base defense for the 49ers this season. Although Coach Erickson repeatedly said that it will be a tool the 49ers utilize, the first string defense spent a majority of the snaps in a 3-4 alignment.

Despite the new defensive wrinkles, Tyrone Wheatley still averaged 6.6 yards on the first team defense. Rich Gannon seemed to move the Raider offense with ease through the 49er defense, dominating the time of possession in the first quarter. As I watched, flashed of Minnesota kept materializing in my head. Then I remembered that the defense is still missing a couple starters, namely Ahmed Plummer, Anthony Adams, and Julian Peterson. Brandon Whiting will also be a great addition, especially in the 3-4 defense given his size. Given the missing personnel, Saturday's performance was respectable.

3) Kevan Barlow looks to be the real deal. In limited action he averaged 4.8 yards per carry. In the first quarter Barlow sliced through the defense on an 18-yard run providing flashes of the quick feet and quick bursts that will make him an elite rusher in this league.

On the topic of the rushing attack: Kwame Harris is definitely coming along as a left tackle. He absolutely manhandled a defensive end on a Kevan Barlow sweep. With the addition of Justin Smiley, the line becomes more athletic, meaning more sweeps where guards pull to the outside. The rushing game will definitely be a bright spot this season.

4) The tight end will be a huge part of the offense this season. Even with a cast on, Johnson managed 47 yards on two catches. The tight end of the evening, however, was third-stringer Gabe Crecion. He caught 3 passes for 79 yards and one touchdown.

Almost each pass caught by the tight ends, including the touchdown, was on a seam pattern up the middle of the field. The seam pattern was a staple of the 49ers when Brent Jones ran the route to perfection in the 1980's. With an emerging tight end corps, opposing defenses may not be able to key in on Lloyd, which can only bode well for the 49er's offensive success.

5) Cody Pickett will beat Brandon Doman for the third quarterback spot. His passes were crisp, accurate, and more importantly, effective. Of the three quarterbacks that played in Saturday's exhibition, Pickett was the best. Yes, he was even better than Dorsey. In the end, Picket went 5 for 7 for 89 yards and one touchdown.

Dorsey was efficient in his two series. Although he did show some jitters, overthrown passes being the most evident manifestation, each time he took the reigns of the offense he produced points. Sure, he had to settle for field goals, but they were points scored on the first team defense. Dorsey finished 8 for 12 for 94 yards. When Rattay comes back, he will have to impress in order to avoid a quarterback controversy.

Play of the Game: Arnaz Battle showcased his elusiveness on a 61-yard punt return for a score early in the 4th quarter. He ran into a pile, bounced of four defenders, spun 360 degrees (involuntarily), managed to keep his balance and sprinted down the right sideline. He then cut inside, eluding two defenders, then, upon realizing he couldn't reach the corner, cut to the right again splitting two Raider defenders for the score.

Player(s) of the Game: The Referees. Without the 215 yards called against the Raiders, the game would have been over in the second quarter.

Cody Pickett: He kept the 49ers in the game until the end with well timed passes that ate up big chunks of yards. He managed the game well and always seemed to find the open man. He looked more relaxed than Dorsey at times.

Winborn Watch: Yes, Jaime Winborn is back...again; flying all over the field making tackle after tackle. He was the defensive star while the first team defense was on the field.

Overall, the team showed some resilience, answering the Raiders every time they needed to. The Raiders second and third units handles the 49ers corresponding units well, reminding me that the 49ers are definitely in the middle of a process. What that process is, exactly, will be revealed by season's end.