49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan began his postgame press conference by saying Thursday night’s loss to the Texans was “pretty rough.” He’s not wrong, and that’ll be the theme during this version of Winners and Losers.
Shanahan summed the preseason up with a perfect quote, however:
“Preseason is important, but I compare it to the driving range: whatever happens doesn’t matter, but you’ve got to practice it to get better.”
Winners – Samson Ebukam
Ebukam made the most of his playing time. He had a sack on the first drive and beat his man several times. Ebukam’s effort doesn’t go unnoticed and will be a big reason why he’ll be in the running for runner-up in sacks on the team this year.
This season is a contract year for Ebukam. He’s in a fantastic position to earn a lot of money next off-season. Remember, this is only Ebukam’s second full year as an edge rusher. He came on strong at the end of 2021 and appears to have picked up where he left off.
This feels like a segue to the regular season, with multiple defensive linemen listed as winners. Omenihu found himself in the backfield often. He finished the game with three tackles, all for 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 to stop Nick Bosa this season. Therefore, the 49ers must get production from their non-starters. I refuse to call them backups, as Omenihu and Drake Jackson are starters for most teams.
After the game, Shanahan applauded Womack for not quitting on the times he was targeted. It’s refreshing and new to see a 49er cornerback make plays on 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 savviness on a separate deep pass as he went to hand-fight with the wide receiver. This helps break the wideouts’ stride and, thus, his concentration.
We’ll see how Womack holds up against the run during the regular season, but the Niners have a cornerback slot that can cover vertical routes. That’s the greatest weakness in DeMeco Ryans’ defense. Limiting those plays gives opposing offenses next to nothing to attack. Womack looks like the real deal.
Losers – The offensive line
Summing the offensive line’s performance in one word: Yikes. The quarterbacks were sacked three times. The Texans had six other tackles for loss as well as a quarterback hit. And if not for Trey Lance and Brock Purdy’s athleticism, we’re looking at at least four more sacks.
Jaylon Moore just returned to practice this week, so I want to cut him some slack. However, Moore didn’t make it easy. There were plays where the quarterback dropped back, and multiple linemen were beaten.
The struggles up front weren’t limited to the passing game. San Francisco ran the ball 24 times for 2.1 yards per carry. And in those 51 yards included gains of 12, 8, 7, and 8. So, 35 of those 51 yards came on four carries. Double yikes.
Spencer Burford struggled. Jordan Mills wasn’t much better. Keaton Sutherland had a false start, and he was the center. Everyone’s favorite rookie Jason Poe underwhelmed, too. Let’s hope the Niners don’t suffer any catastrophic injuries along the line, as their issues were on full display.
You don’t expect your 2s and 3s to execute at the same level as your starters. That goes without saying. But it would have been tough for the 49ers to play any sloppier Thursday night. They went 0-for-3 on fourth down, threw two interceptions that you can’t make, dropped a (meaningless) touchdown at the end of the game, and had 11 penalties on the evening. There were also two fumbles, but the team recovered both.
Shanahan confirmed safety Jimmie Ward would begin the season on the injured reserve. Dontae Johnson didn’t play, which gave George Odum, Tarvarius Moore, and Tashaun Gipson a chance to prove themselves worthy of starting. Odum missed a tackle early on, resulting in the receiver running for 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 left the game briefly as he had to be looked at by team doctors during the game before returning. Moore gets credit for the interception, but that play was all Womack.
Gipson was responsible for a touchdown. He looked like a guy who hadn’t played in a while and appeared to be a step slow.
With Ward missing the first four games, the Niners could be in trouble — especially in Week 3 and 4, when they faced 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’ll have Trent Williams lined up next to him. The same applies to 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 won’t deal with a heavy pass rush the first two weeks of the season, and that will be beneficial for Kyle Shanahan and serve as a perfect warm-up for the rookies. If anything, we might see more designed runs for Lance early in the season as Shanahan figures out which plays he can run while the offensive line gels.
The constant pressure the defensive line showed without its starters during the preseason was encouraging. Again, 15 core players didn’t play against the Texans. So any analysis omitting that should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s the preseason. None of this will matter if the 49ers win double-digit games.