Injuries had a big impact on Saturday night's Preseason Week Two tilt between the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans.
The Texans, and quarterback Matt Schaub, definitely felt the benefit of the 49ers having a limited Justin Smith and no Ahmad Brooks or Aldon Smith. Likewise, San Francisco was fortunate enough to have Shaun Cody and J.J. Watt standing on the sideline instead of clogging running lanes.
Despite an incomplete look, and a lack of a real gameplan, there was still a lot to glean from the game. While one position battle looks to be over, a couple of more got very, very interesting. Let's jump to see what was observed in Week Two of the 2012 NFL Preseason.
-- For starters, no one should get too down on the run game. The San Francisco 49ers' defense prides itself on shutting running offenses down like the #BullsOnParade pride themselves on getting to the quarterback. That is not to say the Texans should accept defeat, but the 49ers' defense tackles well and is disciplined in their gap contain. Backside cutback lanes were completely shut down.
In a real game, head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison would have schemed up an alternate plan for the rushing attack, but it is what it is. The rushing offense picked up some after Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman left the field, but the defense did not let the Texans cut back so easily.
-- The first-team pass offense was a clear and definite strength. Matt Schaub was kept upright all night and only had three incompletions. This is the Schaub we saw pre-injury last year, and it was a welcome site to see him accurate and in control.
Unlike last week, the wide receivers, not the tight ends, were on display. I can only speak for myself, but the receiving corps does not concern me anymore. Andre Johnson was the big dog and made his big catch before getting off the field HEALTHY. Lestar Jean found the soft spots in the zone for three first down receptions and a touchdown catch, while Keshawn Martin had three catches, two first downs, and ran routes that Jacoby Jones could only dream of running.
This passing offense can be incredibly effective - as long as Schaub and Johnson are healthy.
-- Meet your (probable) starting right guard...Antoine Caldwell!
After last week’s game, I speculated that all Caldwell had to do to secure his starting spot was hold serve for a second week. The Crimson Tide alum did not have as strong a game as he did last week, but he was not the weak link on the first-team line either – hi, Wade Smith, how you doing? Caldwell’s stand-out plays were a good pull on the first play of the second offensive drive and a fantastic putdown block on Isaac Sopoaga during the fourth drive.
While Caldwell was solid, Brandon Brooks struggled with speed on this night. Brooks had a couple of holding penalties on him and was part of a group who false-started. He would settle down some and have about three nice run blocks, but multiple penalties will not cut it for Kubiak.
-- The starting right tackle battle is still unresolved, as Derek Newton ran with the first-team offense to mixed results.
On the positive side, Newton has the athleticism to recover. On the first drive, he gets wide on a play-action pass but was able to quickly slide back and fight his man off. Later in that drive on a Double Bubble Screen, Newton tries to do too much and chip blocks a man on his way out in front of Arian Foster. The chip slows him down enough to allow Donte Whitner to make the quick tackle as opposed to getting blocked by Newton.
Rashad Butler came in on the fourth series and played until the third-team was inserted in. Butler did not have any bad plays, aside from the group false-start, and played much better in the run game. I have him marked down for two good run blocks. It is the improvement he needed after last week.
Given that the starters will likely play three quarters this Saturday, I fully expect Kubiak to swtich out Butler and Newton to give them equal time at right tackle.
-- Wade Smith struggled. I have him down for three bad/missed run blocks that resulted in his man making the tackle and a bad pass block that resulted in a pressure on Schaub. This is just a statement. Another statement? Garrett Graham struggled with his blocks, too. He had a holding penalty and had about three blocks where he was shed pretty quickly.
-- No Watt and no Cody meant the front line struggled some with holding the point of attack. A lot of the run plays were because no one was commanding double teams or penetrating into the backfield to disrupt runs. The massive 49er guards could easily get up and put a body on Brian Cushing and Bradie James, which led to the run game success.
-- Connor Barwin, Tim Jamison, Antonio Smith, and Cushing did a good job of getting pressure on Alex Smith and forcing him into two sacks. In particular, Barwin was able to get pressure at will. This would, of course, run him upfield on runs occasionally, but the pressures did get Smith moving or throwing before he wanted to.
-- Best nose tackle of the game? How about Ra’Shon Harris? He showed the ability to penetrate and clog lanes in his first drive, coming with the first-team, and nabbed three total tackles on the night, one due to Jared Crick penetrating and forcing the running back to cut right into Harris. I would not be surprised if Harris landed somewhere on this roster.
Other good second and third team performers include Quintin Demps, Tim Dobbins, Jesse Nading, Roc Carmichael, and Keith Browner. The bad? Alan Ball, Alan Ball and a play where Shiloh Keo, Shawn Loiseau, and Rennie Moore all missed tackles on LaMichael James. Bonus point: Why is Alan Ball still here?
-- Trindon Holliday made a NFL roster last night. If the Texans cut him, someone is signing the little LSU alumnus. He is averaging 44 yards per kick return and 18.4 yards per punt return thanks, in part, to two touchdowns. Due to touchbacks, Holliday only had two kick returns, for a 30.5 YPKR average, but his punt returns were better than last week's.
Of course, the touchdown is the highlight. It wasn’t a great job of coverage by the 49ers, but there were two key blocks. The struggle with punt returns thus far, as I see it, have been gunners beating the Texans' blockers down the field. On the touchdown, a Texan, Lestar Jean, beat the gunner down the field to give Holliday some breathing room. Jesse Nading was able to get a hat on a man to make the second key block. After that, it was all Holliday down the sideline.
-- Speaking of special teams, stand-outs include the following: Ben Jones (kick return blocking, two good blocks as the middle wedge man), Sherrick McManis (punt team coverage, stellar tackle on the first punt), Roc Carmichael (kickoff and punt team coverage, two special teams tackles), and Mister Alexander (kickoff coverage, two tackles).
-- Long snapper Jon Weeks had his first ‘bad’ long snap as a Texan that I can recall. He had a low snap to punter Donnie Jones.
-- Finally, the kicker battle got a bit more interesting.
Shayne Graham: 2/2 on field goals from 48- and 49-yards. Two kickoffs averaging five yards deep in the end zone with a starting field position of the opponent’s 25.
Randy Bullock: Missed a 51-yard field goal, 2/2 on extra points, and three kickoffs averaging three yards deep in the end zone with a starting field position of the opponent’s 20, aided by a holding penalty.
Missing the long field goal, which he just pushed down the hashes, is not too much of a backbreaker for #fatrandy, but Graham’s long field goals mean this competition will continue. It is still Bullock's job to lose.
Anyone I miss? Anyone I praise too much? Anything I catch that you did not? Let me know in the comments.
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