It was truly a beautiful site. A breathe of fresh air without it slapping you across the face alongside a wrapper or a plastic bag from "The Stick." It was the debut of one of the most beautiful and high tech stadiums in the country; Levi's Stadium was buzzing with optimism and excitement as if the season had started today…then, the game started. A few hours later, the seats were nearly empty and the Niners ended with as many points as they started. It was a 34-0 beat down by the reigning AFC champs, the Denver Broncos.
"I didn't think we executed well enough in any area today." said Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
There's only so much blame any one individual can bare during a preseason matchup with starters playing one to two series, if even that, and third string players coming in and out. Harbaugh would not highlight any player's short comings as he sighted plenty of times during his post-game press conference that collectively, things need to "tighten down" as units.
Here are some observations from Sunday's glorified practice.
- The offense appeared to be off with its timing on every series. While the first team offense progressed up the field, they ultimately couldn't secure any points. Running back Frank Gore saw his first action of the preseason and had a nice rush for nine yards on his first carry of the game, however, Gore would only have one more carry before being taken out. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a deep pass just sail out of reach of a diving Brandon Lloyd who was racing down the right sideline and into the end-zone. San Francisco got within field goal distance for Phil Dawson, although it was certainly not a chip shot from 55-yards out, the veteran kicker sailed the ball wide-right.
- Kaepernick played two series and showed that he has made some early adjustments as he went through his progressions in the first quarter. Kaep looked down the field and checked down to rookie Carlos Hyde (who caught his first pass of the preseason; a question mark in his game) for a nine yard game. Kaep also checked down to Bruce Miller after surveying the field. It may not seem like much but it will definitely benefit Kaepernick as the season approaches.
- Blaine Gabbert had another rough outing, although he did improve his completion rate as he went 8/14 for 40 yards, he missed some targets by several feet and threw one interception. Fortunately for Gabbert's sake, no other backup quarterback really upstaged him and both managed to turn the ball over as well. Josh Johnson succeeded Gabbert and fumbled on a play that had disaster written all over it from the get go as Johnson stumbled on the snap and failed to ever truly gather himself. Johnson only threw three passes, completing two for only nine yards. Mcleod Bethel-Thompson's stat sheet looks reasonable, other than the one pick, but 48 of his 79 passing yards came on an awful throw that was deflected (but should of been intercepted by safety John Boyett) and then caught by tight end Kevin Greene.
- The defensive line struggled mightily against the Broncos protection unit which aided the stellar efforts by all three Denver QB's. Peyton Manning went 12/14 for 102 yards and a TD, Brock Osweiler went 10/13 for 105 yards and a TD, and Zac Dysert went 8/11 for 63 yards and one touchdown. In its defense…the D-line was absent of Ray McDonald, Justin Smith and Ian Williams.
- The top passing attack in the league from a year ago quickly took rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward to school as he lined up in the nickel against Wes Welker in the first quarter. Ward was unable to prevent Welker from receiving a 15-yard pass from Manning, who threaded the needle between Ward and Eric Reid for a third-down completion.
- Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite stayed relatively even in their competition to fill NaVorro Bowman's spot for at least half the season as he recovers from injury. Wilhoite tallied seven tackles while Borland accumulated five of his own. Both had moments where they were a step or two late to the ball, but ultimately showed hustle and grit.
This was certainly not the game that was expected before kickoff, but with two games remaining before the start of the season, the Niners still have time to iron out the wrinkles. Although prominent starters are being limited and the outcome of the games really don't matter, the Niners will look to prepare themselves for their third exhibition game with coach Harbaugh saying, "Things need to tighten down, fast."
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