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The 2010 San Francisco 49ers and their fans have a lot to be enthusiastic about as the team went undefeated in four pre-season games. While these games are in some eyes rather meaningless, for many others it was a giant step forward in auditioning a team that has potential to finally make the NFL playoffs. 49er fans have been awe-struck to see significant balance on both sides of the ball with the offense and defense working in cohesion to reach victory.
This is the best team that the San Francisco 49ers has fielded since 2002 and that is not at all a joke. This is a team that has ability and talent, and is almost overflowing with self-confidence. However, they are still not as disciplined as the coaching staff would like the players to be. If we can overcome some of the minor inefficiencies within the framework of the mechanics and techniques on the field we should command a lot of respect.
First and foremost, we have to recognize that the offensive line has finally come together and that Alex Smith is our undisputed starting quarterback with David Carr as our new back-up. The additions in Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati signal the new emphasis on dictating the line of scrimmage which Mike Singletary, since his first days as head coach, had said was the focus for our offense. Going 4-0 in this pre-season was also a great shot in the arm for a team that has struggled to form its own identity to other teams inside the NFL.
Making the playoffs begins with winning games and taking control of one's own division as the season progresses. We have a golden opportunity with a team that is abundant in known and developing talent. Although team still has opportunities to grow, the way we fought to attain victory in all the pre-season games speaks volumes about us as a team.
Looking back on the Oakland Raiders game, we witnessed a determined San Francisco 49er team fight to stage a comeback after being down 21-17 in the third quarter. Our pass defense got lit up in the first half, which caused several of the starting players to request to be put back in the second half to atone for their lack of execution and shut the Raiders passing attack down. We ultimately defeated the Oakland Raiders 28-24, but it was how we did it that was the most exciting. Watching our running game was one of the best highlights of that game as we put the ball in a running back's hands 33 times for a total of 165 total yards and we averaged 5.0 yards per carry. That was the first and second team offensive lines making holes for those backs to run through. Frank Gore's 49-yard scamper had me jumping out of my living room couch with absolute joy (as I know you did as well).
And did you even notice that the Oakland Raider defense never was able to get through and sack either of our quarterbacks in Alex Smith and David Carr? Smith of course was as comfortable as I've ever seen him and Carr was hilarious jumping up and over an Oakland Raider defender who attempted to tackle him simply to gain a few more yards. But then there were those players that irritated you a bit in that Tarell Brown was burned on two completions in the first half, and Delanie Walker had both an off-sides penalty and a dropped pass. As you look at this game I guess the most troubling things on offense were the passes that players dropped as Alex Smith targeted them with really fairly accurate attempts. Smith had six incomplete passes with four of them being just dropped passes. And as for our defense, they gave up 276 total yards in passing to the Oakland Raiders, despite tightening up in the second half to end the game with two sacks.
Some notable players that made my head turn in this game were: Anthony Davis with a vicious cut block, Mike Iupati with some excellent consecutive blocks to free Frank Gore, David Baas giving Iupati and earful on an off-sides penalty, Josh Morgan's 16-yard touchdown reception, Philip Adams punt return ability and the continued hard hitting and running of rookie running back Anthony Dixon.
Then you have the final pre-season game against the San Diego Chargers at Candlestick Park in which we won 17-14. This was a game where the first-string defense was out to redeem itself after a not so fortunate outing in Oakland the previous week. Reporting to duty on the field was veteran hold-out nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. Although many a fan out there knew that this is a game of no real significance, the focus is always about the individual players fighting to win a roster spot or practice squad spot to keep their NFL dreams alive.
I always find this last game to be the hardest to watch because of the intense competition there is for roster spots and sometimes there is really not a lot that separates one athlete from another. I thank God that the coaches are the decision makers out there on the field in determining which play made that pivotal mark to sustain them a spot on a well-trimmed roster. Back-up 49er quarterback David Carr showed improvement from his last game going 5-of-6 for 58 total yards and a quarterback rating of 106.9%.
The San Francisco 49er pass defense didn't fair so well with 275 total yards from the Chargers, 148 yards coming in the first half alone. There were various long completed passes to an array of San Diego Charger receivers of 47, 29 and 25 yards in which the Chargers actually took the lead 14-10 in the third quarter. Nickel backs Tarell Brown and Karl Paymah, both playing for a roster spot, have not executed to anyone's expectations. One defensive back that did make heads turn once again was rookie Taylor Mays, who made an interception at the goal line who was then popped by Charger wide receiver Josh Reed but had enough sense to get up and dance about it.
The real star of the whole show this night was once again rookie running back Anthony Dixon who had 12 total carries for 80 total yards averaging 6.7 yards per carry and a 46 yard touchdown run that sent the 49er fanfare in an uproar. The new and improved offensive line continues to get very physical at the line of scrimmage and is able to open wide gaps for Dixon to slowdown, anticipate, and hit with some real substance. Once he is involved in the secondary he is able to make even the most agile of defensive backs miss him.
The offensive line continues to shine with the two mammoth rookies in Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, but veteran back-up center Cody Wallace was called on for two personal foul penalties which effectively sealed his fate as a roster casualty. Dominique Zeigler has played his way into a roster spot by always being in the right place at the right time in comparison to veteran Jason Hill who unfortunately never was able to cash in on any sort of completion ratio throughout the entire pre-season. Zeigler made a one-handed acrobatic catch in the end zone but came down with only one foot in bounds, yet he still finds a way to be around the ball consistently.
Defensively the San Francisco 49ers had a great effort by linebacker Manny Lawson tipping a screen pass and intercepting it. Navorro Bowman and Bruce Davis at linebackers splurged on a five-sack feast of San Diego Charger quarterbacks as both Volek and Crompton experienced relentless pressure and frustration with defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's special packages. Offensively the 49ers were unable to convert effectively on third down completing only 3-of-11 attempts, and actually lost time of possession by a fraction to the San Diego Chargers.
Third-string quarterback Nate Davis remains just that, a third-string quarterback because of the two interceptions and his completion ratio of going 11-for-22, and ending with a quarterback rating of 40.5%. The learning curve continues to exist, but is he worth keeping on the roster one more season to see where he picks-up in 2011?
Overall this was a pre-season to remember. It had a lot of showcases of real optimism as we head into the regular season. I think the only real roster cut I was disappointed in was linebacker Matt Wilhelm, who I thought played well in a linebacker pool overflowing with talent. Now the vision is before us and so is the NFC Western Division. God Bless our San Francisco 49ers.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.