49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan kicked off his post-game press conference by saying Thursday night’s loss to the Texans was “pretty heavy.” He’s not wrong, and that will be the theme during this version of Winners and Losers.
However, Shanahan summed up the preseason with a perfect quote:
“Pre-season is important, but I liken it to the driving range: whatever happens, it doesn’t matter, but you have to practice it to get better.”
Winners – Samson Ebukam
Ebukam made the most of his playing time. He had a bag on the first ride and hit his man several times. Ebukam’s effort will not go unnoticed and will be a big reason why he will be in the running for second place on the team this year.
This season is a contract year for Ebukam. He is in a fantastic position to make a lot of money next season. Remember, this is only Ebukam’s second full year as an edge rusher. He recovered strongly at the end of 2021 and seems to be picking up where he left off.
This feels like a sequel to the regular season, with multiple defensive linemen as winners. Omenihu often found himself in the backfield. He finished the game with three tackles, all for a loss, including a sack. Everyone knows how deep the defensive line is, but seven tackles for loss as a unit is impressive, preseason or not.
Teams will sell out this season to stop Nick Bosa. That’s why the 49ers have to get production from their non-starters. I refuse to call them backups because Omenihu and Drake Jackson are starters for most teams.
After the game, Shanahan applauded Womack for not stopping at the times he was targeted. It’s refreshing and new to watch a 49er cornerback play the ball. Yes, Womack had a pass interference. He also took points off the board by deflecting a pass in the air in the end zone for an interception.
Womack showed veteran wit on a separate deep pass when he went to fight with the wide receiver. This helps to break the stride of the wide runners and with it his concentration.
We’ll see how Womack holds up against the run during the regular season, but the Niners have a slot cornerback who can cover vertical routes. That’s the biggest weakness in the DeMeco Ryans defense. Restricting those plays gives opposing offenses almost nothing to attack. Womack looks like the real deal.
Losers – The offensive line
Summing up the offensive line performance in one word: Yikes. The quarterbacks were fired three times. The Texans had six other tackles for losses and a quarterback hit. And without Trey Lance and Brock Purdy’s athleticism, we’re looking at at least four more sacks.
Jaylon Moore just came back this week for practice so I want to give him some slack. Moore didn’t make it easy for him, though. There were plays where the quarterback relapsed and multiple linemen were beaten.
The battle up front was not limited to the passing game. San Francisco ran the ball 24 times for 2.1 yards per carry. And those 51 yards included wins of 12, 8, 7 and 8. So 35 of those 51 yards came on four carries. Double bite.
Spencer Burford had a hard time. Jordan Mills wasn’t much better. Keaton Sutherland had a false start and he was the center of attention. Everyone’s favorite rookie Jason Poe was also impressed. Let’s hope the Niners don’t suffer catastrophic injuries down the line, as their troubles were fully visible.
You don’t expect your 2s and 3s to perform at the same level as your starters. That is obvious. But it would have been difficult for the 49ers to play sloppily on Thursday night. They went 0-for-3 trailing fourth, threw two naughty interceptions, dropped a (meaningless) touchdown at the end of the game and got 11 penalties in the evening. There were also two fumbles, but the team recovered both.
Shanahan confirmed that safety Jimmie Ward would start the season on the injured reserve. Dontae Johnson didn’t play, which gave George Odum, Tarvarius Moore and Tashaun Gipson a chance to prove they were worth starting. Odum missed a tackle early on, causing the receiver to get a first down. That was Odum’s second missed tackle in only four attempts this preseason.
One of Ward and Jaquiski Tartt’s greatest strengths was bringing players down in the open field. Moore briefly left the game because he had to be watched by team doctors during the game before returning. Moore gets credit for the interception, but that game was all Womack.
Gipson was responsible for a touchdown. He looked like a man who hadn’t played in a while and seemed to be one step slow.
With Ward missing the first four games, the Niners could be in trouble – especially in Weeks 3 and 4, when they face Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford.
As painful as Thursday’s loss was to watch, I don’t know if we learned anything new. You can get away with starting Banks because he has Trent Williams standing next to him. The same goes for Burford and Mike McGlinchey. The quarterbacks spent most of the night under duress, while the running backs had to deal with defenders in the backfield more often than not.
The offense will not deal with a heavy pass rush for the first two weeks of the season, which will benefit Kyle Shanahan and serve as a perfect warm-up for the rookies. If anything, we can see more designed runs for Lance early in the season as Shanahan finds out what plays he can make as the offensive line learns.
The constant pressure the defensive line showed without the starters during the preseason was encouraging. Again 15 core players did not play against the Texans. So any analysis that is omitted should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s the preseason. None of this matters if the 49ers win double-digit games.