49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan began his postgame press conference by saying Thursday night’s loss to the Texans was “pretty rough.” He is not wrong, and that will be the theme during this version of Winners and Losers.
Shanahan summed up the preseason with a perfect quote, though:
“Pre-season is important, but I compare 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 sack on the first drive and hit his man multiple times. Ebukam’s effort is not going unnoticed and will be a big reason why he will be in the running for second in sacks on the team this year.
That season is a contract year for Ebukam. He is in a fantastic position to make a lot of money next offseason. Remember, this is only Ebukam’s second full year as an edge rusher. He came on strong at the end of 2021 and seems to have picked up where he left off.
This feels like a follow-up to the regular season, with several defensive linemen listed as winners. Omenihu often found himself in the backfield. 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 need 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 giving up 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. He also took points off the board by deflecting a pass in the air in the end zone for an interception.
Womack showed veteran acumen on a separate deep pass when he went to scrimmage with the wide receiver. This helps to break the pace of the wide men and, thus, 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 is the biggest weakness in DeMeco Ryans defense. Limiting those plays gives opposing offenses almost nothing to attack. Womack looks like the real deal.
Losers – The offensive line
Summing up the effectiveness of the offensive line in one word: Yes. The quarterbacks were sacked three times. The Texans had six other tackles for loss as well as a quarterback hit. And if not for the athleticism of Trey Lance and Brock Purdy, 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 hit.
The struggles before were not 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. Doubly so.
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 also went under. Let’s hope the Niners don’t suffer catastrophic injuries down the line, because their problems have been on full display.
You don’t expect your 2nds and 3rds to perform at the same level as your starters. That goes without saying. But it would be hard for the 49ers to play any more sloppy Thursday night. They went 0-for-3 on fourth down, threw two interceptions 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 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 themselves worthy of starting. Odum missed a tackle early, resulting in the receiver running for a first down. That was Odum’s second missed tackle in just four attempts this preseason.
One of Ward and Jaquiski Tartt’s biggest strengths was bringing down players in the open field. Moore left the game briefly because 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 landing. He looked like a guy who hadn’t played in a while and seemed to be a little 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 be successful with starting Banks because he will 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 will not deal with a heavy pass the first two weeks of the season, and that will be beneficial for Kyle Shanahan and will 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 their starters during the preseason was encouraging. Again, 15 core players did not 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.