Five things we learned about the 49ers during their over-the-top poor performance in Saturday's 30-7 exhibition loss to the Houston Texans that dropped San Francisco to 1-2 in the preseason.
Left-side linemen need to get on same page
There have been times this summer when you'd like to believe the 49ers are in pretty good shape on the left side of their offensive line with tackle Joe Staley
and guard Mike Iupati
. Then there are times like Saturday night, when you wonder if these two can be effective together in pass protection, particularly with Iupati continuing to struggle in that area like he did at times as a rookie. When they weren't getting run over by defenders Saturday – this was Staley's plight more than Iupati's – they were getting their signals crossed while allowing opponents to blow by them for clear shots at San Francisco's quarterbacks. Since Staley and Iupati are considered the Niners' best players at their positions, they need to start closing ranks and clear up their miscommunication problems pronto, even if coach Jim Harbaugh said on Sunday that he thought technique and fundamentals were more the issue than miscommunication between the two linemen. Just the same, Iupati can't keep having "brain farts," as he called his shortcomings Saturday, if the blind-side protectors are to get on the same page and stay there.
Harbaugh doesn't care about preseason appearances
Harbaugh's approach to mix and match starters with a particular set of reserves in the first half against Houston's front-line players seemed only to set up the Niners for failure against a hungry and established Houston lineup that was eager to get down to business in its dress rehearsal for the regular season. But like he has throughout the preseason, Harbaugh has stuck with his plan of evaluating his team and its talent with a sometimes unconventional design that doesn't seem much concerned with final appearances. That may ultimately help the 49ers when it all gets real in September, at the expense of exposing deficiencies, growing pains and snowballing results in the present. Harbaugh put it this way during his day-after conference call Sunday afternoon, "By position, I think we did accomplish some of the things we were trying to do as far as figuring out things we want to learn about our ball club. Some of them were good. Some of them we didn't want to find out."
Niners need Gore in lineup as much as ever
This isn't exactly a new revelation, but perhaps part of the problem for the 49ers offensively in the first half Saturday was the simple fact that Frank Gore
was not on the field with them. That allowed Houston's defense to come at Alex Smith
and Co. with reckless abandon without having to take regard for San Francisco's best offensive player. Even with the struggles the 49ers are having at quarterback and along the offensive line, they get a whole lot better with Gore on the field, and that's a dimension they've been without most of the preseason except for a few early-game cameos when Gore churned away for his typical five yards per carry the past two weeks. At this point, the Niners should need no convincing that they need a happy Gore in the lineup, and that might persuade them to have a little more give when team officials meet with agent Drew Rosenhaus on Monday to discuss progress on a new contract for Gore before the season begins. Rookie Kendall Hunter
has looked good during the preseason while making a serious run to be the team's No. 2 backfield threat, but just think how big a void there would be if Gore wasn't there to be the No. 1.
Brooks ready for role as top playmaker
Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks
has been showing it all summer in both practice and preseason games that he is ready to take the next step to impact performer, but his instinctive reaction on Saturday's first play from scrimmage is the best indication yet that's where he's headed. Brooks immediately recognized the play that was developing in front of him as Houston linemen allowed him to break through, and the way he slid smoothly into the passing lane instead of continuing upfield with his pass rush showed that Brooks is developing both the feel and discipline necessary for one of the most demanding individual positions in coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 system. If pass coverage was the biggest question regarding Brooks' capability to handle the position, the August verdict is that's he's ready for the all-around responsibilities of the role and all the playmaking possibilities that will come with it. "I'm impressed he's found a way to make plays, and it's good to see that show up," Harbaugh said.
The WCO still very much a work in progress
It appeared the 49ers had turned a corner in Harbaugh's West Coast offensive system when they gained 402 yards against the Raiders last week in a relatively crisp and error-free performance. But that corner has not been turned, and in fact the 49ers still are a ways down the block from it. The system requires precision and synchronicity and the only way that is going to come is with time. With their exhibition finale at San Diego now four days away, time is running out for it to sink in during the preseason, so the 49ers and their fans will have to continue to adjust their approach and outlook with patience in mind. "We were violated at times," Harbaugh said, "and when that's happening you have to look at all three phases of what you're doing – schematically, how you're doing it and who's doing it. I think we know better now what our strengths and weaknesses are and where we need to make improvement. It's (players) getting to know (coaches) and us getting to know them as it relates to all facets of where we are right now, and it's a process. I think that about sums it up. There's no question about it. There's work to do and we have to get better and coach better." Which is one thing we've known about the 49ers since the preseason began.