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49ers vs. Texans: Takeaways from San Francisco’s 16-13 preseason loss

Aug 18, 2018 at 11:08 PM


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The San Francisco 49ers finally lost a game Jimmy Garoppolo started. Granted, it was a preseason bout with the Houston Texans. But let's look at the top takeaways from each unit from the game.


As Al Sacco and I detailed in 49ers Webzone's latest No Huddle podcast, the San Francisco 49ers' first-string offense needed to get some rhythm going against the Houston Texans in preseason Week 2.

Well, fortunately, it did. San Francisco capped off its opening drive with a 10-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that chewed up over five minutes of game clock. That was good, although the Niners defense subsequently gave up a touchdown drive on Houston's first possession, which tied things up at 7-7.

Both teams struggled to get their backup offenses going afterwards, although the Texans managed to pull off a surprising 16-13 victory, thanks to a 41-yard game-winning touchdown pass by backup quarterback Joe Webb to wide receiver Vyncint Smith.

That would have been upsetting in a regular-season context. But since few of those depth players will see the 53-man roster this season, it's not much to think about. For the most part, at least.

Still, the game was pretty ugly. Head coach Kyle Shanahan's squad committed 15 penalties for 140 yards, the running game never got going and there was poor on-field decision making from a number of Niners players throughout.

"There were way too many penalties," Shanahan said following the game. "Some you can control, some you can't. Always the pre-snap penalties bother me the most. ... They're unacceptable."

Well, perhaps it's better to get those out of the way in the preseason.

Let's break down how each of the 49ers' positional units fared over the course of the contest.

Quarterback


After going a mere 3-of-6 against the Dallas Cowboys in the exhibition opener, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo impressed with a 10-of-12 mark for 136 yards and a touchdown to wide receiver Trent Taylor. The next drive, Garoppolo did toss an interception that was intended for rookie wideout Dante Pettis.

"There's obviously some things we need to fix up," Garoppolo told reporters after the game. "There always is this time of year. We'll try and look at the film and get those corrected."

Still Garoppolo managed to convert some key third-down attempts, including a long 40-yard reception to wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on the opening drive.

After Garoppolo departed the game, No. 2 quarterback C.J. Beathard saw the majority of snaps until late in the second half. As was the case against Dallas, Beathard struggled with his placement and getting the ball out on time. Later on, after Beathard was relieved by third stringer Nick Mullens, the Niners managed to engineer a go-ahead drive that put San Francisco ahead 13-10.

Through two preseason games, Mullens has looked far more comfortable in the pocket than Beathard.

Running Back


With Jerick McKinnon (calf) and Matt Breida (shoulder) out, Jeremy McNichols got the start at running back and saw the lion's share of carries on the night. But most of the focus was on fellow second-year pro Joe Williams, who didn't do much to help his cause to make the 53-man roster this season.

Williams had just 18 yards on eight attempts. He also bobbled and lost a would-be catch from Mullens, which Houston intercepted:


With last week's addition of the veteran, Alfred Morris, Williams' hold on a roster spot seems to be slipping away.

Wide Receiver/Tight End


Not surprisingly, Goodwin led all Niners receivers with 61 yards during the game. He's been a major component to Garoppolo's success dating back to last year, and that looks to continue into 2018.

Yet Taylor, not Goodwin, was the benefactor of San Francisco's first score. The slot receiver managed to haul in just two passes for seven yards, but both were key coming on third downs. Fellow slot receiver Richie James, however, wasn't much of a factor during the game. While he did have a catch for one yard, he also dropped an easy would-be reception.

And while Pettis did influence Garoppolo's interception, the rookie receiver did manage to haul in two passes on four targets for 32 yards.

Meanwhile, Cole Hikutini continues to prove why he'll be the 49ers' No. 3 tight end this season. He had one grab for 14 yards.

Offensive Line


For the first time this preseason, guards Joshua Garnett and Jonathan Cooper returned to action after missing time in training camp with knee issues. Garnett didn't get the start at right guard, but he saw significant playing time and generally played well over the course of the contest.


Garnett had a little miscue late, but he also flashed a lot more movement skills and pass-protection prowess he mostly lacked his rookie season back in 2016. Battling with Cooper, who took snaps later in the second half, Garnett certainly increased his chances to make the 53-man roster.

Yet the Niners were set back by two penalties against center Weston Richburg, which heavily influenced the failure to score on the team's second possession.

"I thought we should have finished with two scores," Shanahan said of the first two drives. "I thought we had a stupid penalty, a 25-yard penalty, because there were two of them [on Richburg]."

Yeah, those hurt.

Defensive Line


Unlike Week 1 of the preseason, there wasn't a lot of noise from rookie defensive tackle Jullian Taylor, who didn't crack the stat sheet. Instead, the majority of defensive line efforts came from second-string nose tackle D.J. Jones, who registered three tackles and also forced a fumble during the contest. He looked exceptionally sharp, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him take over starting duties from Earl Mitchell at some point this season.

Fellow defensive tackle Sheldon Day was tied for the Niners defenders' team lead with five tackles.

Yet San Francisco's pass-rushing woes continued, as the defense failed to register a single sack on the night and had a mere three quarterback hits. This will likely be a problem area for the Niners defense all season.

Linebacker


BYU rookie Fred Warner made his NFL debut after missing the first preseason week with a chest injury. He didn't disappoint either, tying Day with tackles (five) and showcasing both excellent run-stopping ability with his already exceptional pass coverage. And with standout linebacker Reuben Foster's two-game suspension to start the regular season looming, it's good to know Warner looks as if he'll be able to step in on day one and contribute.

One thought might be moving one of San Francisco's excess inside linebackers over to SAM linebacker, which is currently occupied by Eli Harold.

Harold struggled during his share of snaps, often being out of position and letting more than one Houston ball carrier exploit gaps. Perhaps moving Warner or Malcolm Smith (hamstring) over to SAM, while leaving Foster and Brock Coyle on the inside, makes sense when the regular season kicks off.

Secondary


Cornerbacks Richard Sherman (hamstring) and K'Waun Williams (ankle) both missed Saturday's game, which led to a number of young defensive backs seeing ample playing time.

It didn't start off great for veteran cornerback Jimmie Ward, however, as he gave up a long 37-yard reception to Texans wideout Bruce Ellington, which led to Houston's opening-possession score. Ward's fifth-year option is fully guaranteed, and the 49ers will be on the hook for the $8 million-plus he's set to earn this season. So cutting Ward doesn't make much sense, financially. But after two games, Ward has been nothing but a liability for coordinator Robert Saleh's defense.

The same can't be said of other first-year defensive backs Tarvarius Moore and Tarvarus McFadden, however. Moore had his bumps during the game but also had a key pass breakup in the second half:


So did McFadden, who nearly pulled off a nice interception later in the half.

Moore is all but guaranteed a roster spot, while McFadden remains on the bubble. But if he can replicate the kind of effort he flashed tonight, it wouldn't be a shock to see McFadden make it beyond cuts.

Undrafted rookie Emmanuel Moseley also had the Niners' lone interception on the night.

Special Teams


Rookie kick returner D.J. Reed managed an impressive 45-yard return, and James managed to flash some impressive punt-return ability too. Both are vying for spots on the 53-man roster this season, so special teams contributions should help matters greatly.

The same can't be said of second-year receiver and return man, Victor Bolden, however.

After Houston took the lead late in the fourth quarter, Bolden inexplicably ran the ball out from deep within the end zone after the ensuing kickoff. What Bolden should have done on the play is take a knee, which would have given the Niners an automatic 25 yards and saved precious time to try and win the game.

Bolden, whose roster spot is already in jeopardy thanks to an already deep 49ers wide receiver corps, won't help his chances with that play. His four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing-substance policy won't help matters either.

At least kicker Robbie Gould was perfect on two field-goal tries.

The 49ers head back to Santa Clara and will resume preparations for their third preseason game of 2018 -- Saturday, Aug. 25 at 4:30 p.m. ET at the Indianapolis Colts.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


3 Comments

  • BW
    It's time to get rid of Ward. He looked horrible in the two preseason games, got suspended from practice for ripping off DeAndre Hopkins' and then starting an altercation. Some team will take him, and even if the 49ers have to eat half of the $8 million to trade him, it's worth it. ANOTHER BAALKE BUST!!!
    Aug 19, 2018 at 11:18 AM
    0
  • beldar
    And it was Tartt in coverage on Ellington on the 4th down conversion touchdown on that drive. Again Ellington was lined up in the slot, but Ward was covering up the wide out on the same side of the field. I had to re-watch this game to even make sure Ward played... I didn't remember seeing him, which is generally a good thing for a db.
    Aug 19, 2018 at 9:29 AM
    3
  • beldar
    ...maybe Ellington had two 37yd receptions, but the 37 yd reception on the 2nd play of the Texans opening drive was being covered by #27 Adrian Colbert. Ellington was in the slot, Ward was covering the outside reciever in man it looked like. Ward was in on the tackle with Tartt and somebody else though.
    Aug 19, 2018 at 9:14 AM
    2

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