What I Saw in the First Preseason Game ('09)

For what it is worth, I want to share my observations on the first pre-season game of '09 (Denver at SF).  Some of my observations may surprise you, some may encourage, and some may disappoint.  One of my observations should give trolls food for thought, as in Guru and I can disagree on something sometimes (that's right, the staff don't receive talking points from the Broncos, and we disagree from time to time.  That's a good thing.  Bright minds can differ).

But I've been waiting to get home from some work I needed to put into today so that I could get my thoughts out to you all.  I don't get to see every game, and when I DO get to see a game, I pay attention.  I hope my thoughts are good for sparking some conversation or questions, and I look forward to hearing from you on it.

Bly

First let's start with a player who isn't a Bronco.  I (and a few other fans) thought Dre' Bly never received a fair shake in Denver.  He played without a safety playing over coverage behind him in most cases (we had a safety in the box), and his DL provided no pass rush.  Folks didn't like his low INT numbers, his poor tackling, his poor run support, etc.  Worth noting is that Bailey didn't look so hot either, but got thrown against much less.

I won't say I told you so, but did you see him last night?  He had an INT, covered his assignments, and even came up and looked great in run support.  That talent could have stayed in Denver this year with no cap penalty.  Just my opinion.

Our Defense

A big hat tip to the members that predicted our 3-4 would take the form of a 5-2.  Our OLBs were on the line most of the night, and played a 5-2 look.  The system was still vanilla (and I can't outright name it yet), but it was predominantly a 5-2 look.  The OLBs did much more line work than traditional OLBs, and little in the way of zone blitzing.

The DL and LBs

It is still to early to call the problem solved, but I really liked what I saw last night from the DL.  We were getting pressure on the QB, and even getting to him.  For the most part, running plays were either stopped near the line, or the DL managed to protect the ILBs for solid run coverage.  It is far too early to know for sure, but I feel a LOT of relief looking at our DL, and the NT in particular.  Ronald Fields was rock solid, Ryan McBean lived up to the hype, and Kenny Peterson looked better than I would have expected.  Too early to tell, but I am VERY satisfied so far. 

The tackling from the entire front seven was much, much improved over last year.  My biggest focus was on the DL, but the front seven looked good as a whole.  There were some minor errors (missed assignments, crossed zones, confusion coming up to the line, etc) but that is to be expected in the preseason.  Best of all, little of the over pursuit from last year!

My favorite observation of the night...

Early in the second half, when the second string defense came out, the 49ers offense came out of the huddle and moved towards their positions.  At the last second, the offensive players moved into an unexpected formation with their personel package.  Now I saw the first and second string defenses on both teams have troubles here and there (getting confused as to where to line up), so I expected MAJOR confusion.  The defense didn't bat an eye, and raced into a different looking defense.  It was a b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l thing to behold and (of course) completely missed by the commentators.  If you taped the game, go back and watch for it.  It was text book adjustment, and I wouldn't have expected even a first string offense in a regular season game to adjust so well.

Tackling

Yes, it is worth repeating.  The guys tackled well.  One blown tackle (a draw up the middle) could be forgiven because the player (couldn't pick him out) couldn't get more than an arm in to make an attempt.  But I wasn't seeing the atrocious missed tackles of last year.  Already, the defense is playing the fundamentals better. 

Will the defense be good?  Well, it IS only one pre-season game and entirely too early to judge.  But I saw garbage all season long last year that wasn't present in this game.  The fundamentals are being coached, and it shows.

Cheerleading

Our ladies weren't there.  But the "Gold Rush" (SF cheerleaders) were.  The outfits were cute, the girls were hot, and the dance moves were well choreographed.  I haven't seen our own crew yet, but the Gold Rush impressed.  I hope our ladies can out perform what was an amazing and very hot showing by the ladies from SF!  Yes, I'm just a little worried.  See here for what our girls are up against!  (Sarcasm alert fellas.  Our girls are going to be great!)

RBs

First, I'll write the obvious.  We looked good.  RBs ran and caught, and I even noticed a RB go out to a WR spot (with a confused LB in tow, though both played their roles well).  I also noticed that we still zone block, just not as heavily.  All is well at RB, and that's really all we need to know.

But I'll throw in a little observation that bothered me.  There was a play (used several times) that just seemed like garbage.  Since I was focused on the line, I couldn't make out exactly what it was.  The RB would either delay, draw, or short reverse (I was watching the line, so I never quite caught what it was), and in any event he would end up going towards the weak side.  It got stuffed every time.  The delay in the run wasn't sold as anything else, and I didn't understand the point of the play.  A few blocking assignments changed up front each time, but it was basicaly the same play.  So the RBs looked good, and the overall play calling.  But that play was awful, and used well past its worth.  I understand dive plays that don't pick up yards, but this was an attempt at cuteness that just wasted time.

Simms

Consider that Chris Simms didn't throw against the first string, and that most of the second half plays seemed to be runs.  Still, he did well.  He made an awesome throw that involved him running to his left (I believe he is also left handed), and bombing down field for a perfect pass and catch to Kenny McKinley.  I was awestruck.  It was very Elwayesque (and no, I'm not making the full comparison).

Yes there were throws in the dirt, and yes there were some bad decisions (and an INT).  But the mechanics were better than I expected.  I still (with the exception of that one, great pass) felt Orton showed better skills.

Orton

Yes, I'm saving the best for last.  The staff corresponded by e-mail yesterday about what we would watch during the game.  I wrote then that I expected to see INTs from Kyle Orton.  Three INTs may shock most of us as fans, but I would have been surprised to see less than 2.  (But yeah, the third one killed me).  In our case, the passing game was going to get too many looks, since the QB has more to show / practice.  (In fact, I was surprised that so many plays under Simms were runs, and that the 49ers ran out the clock instead of practicing a 2 minute drill.  This tells me that the 49ers played to win, while we played to evaluate).

Orton did an excellent job taking us down the field on the first two drives.  I respectfully disagree with my superior and colleague Guru, who didn't like the mechanics.  I saw plenty of things I didn't like, but I also saw things I really liked.  I agree with Guru's take on "happy feet".  The footwork was awkward, and was responsible for a couple of throws into the ground.  I also agree that Orton was reacting instead of thinking.  Too many throws were too quick.

But here are a few things too consider in Orton's favor.  He completed 9 of 16 passes (including the first 5 of 5).  The passes grew less effective because (in my opinion) he threw too much and the pass plays were badly telegraphed (though he bears some blame here).  Keep in mind he WAS facing Nate Clements and Dre' Bly, and that can severely limit options.  His throws were accurate, and the receivers didn't have to work to go after the passes.  I really didn't see the "weak" arm that people go on about.  The arm, and the throwing mechanics themselves were fine.  The other issues (decision making, feet, etc) were poor, but can be worked on.  Orton is a vet, but is still in a new program.  And looking at mechanics (not just box scores), I would still call Orton our starter.

The biggest problem was the 3 INTs.  Each of them presented different issues.  On the first, the throw was right to the receiver, but the CB made a good move cutting off the pass.  On the second, the pass was again right on target, but a very poor decision (the CB was already inside the WR for a superior position).  In the third, Orton thought he could lob the ball over a defender, and misjudged a very talented. high-jumping player.  This was what we call "assuming", and good QBs don't do it.  The 1st INT was good play by the defense.  The last two were all Orton.

For those folks who love Cutler, you got Cutler tonight.  A lot of yards, great drives, and finished up near the endzone with an INT.  Strangely, even our old friend Dukes from NFLN was easy on Orton after the game (uh oh, I'm not in great company).  Dukes pointed out that Orton had good drives until the INTs, and it is too early to damn Orton after a single pre-season game.  Remember, the knock on Orton isn't his accuracy, its his arm strength.  What we saw wasn't typical Orton, it was (as I mentioned earlier) typical Cutler.

I'm not excusing Orton.  I'm just pointing out that it wasn't as bad as just going out and getting dominated, and that there were good things to take away from the passing game.  (For the receivers, TEs, and HBs, I saw a TON of excellent "first move after the catch" techniques, and I'll wager this was heavily coached in practices).

All in All

All in all I'm on the record not being concerned about points, wins and losses, and even INTs (where a new QB in a new system with a new coach and OC play in the very first game, without your starting WR, and against the likes of Bly and Clements).  I predicted INTs, and wouldn't care about the score (which was close) or the result.  What I came to watch was fundamentals.  We have things to work on, absolutely.  But the defense is already better than last year's defense (and this is just the pre-season), and the things I saw out of the OL, RBs, TEs, and WRs looked very good.  Some of those things had the chance to look good because the QB made plays.

So we had two concerns coming into this year.  One was defense, which looks better already (especially the pressure).  The other was the QB.  Depending on what you believe, we may have a chance at improvement or, at worst, may look like a high yardage but high turnover offense.  Since Orton typically throws less INTs than Cutler, I'm not going to panic after one game.

Just my opinion.

Note - [I just got paged into work.  I don't expect to get home until probably tomorow afternoon.  Forgive me for not being able to jump into the comments until then.  Hoosierteacher - 5:20 pm Sat 8-15-09]

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