49ers vs. Saints: Friday Night Preseason Live Reaction to Games Biggest Stories
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The San Francisco 49ers (0-0) square off against the New Orleans Saints (0-0) in the first preseason game of the year for both teams. The Jim Harbaugh era begins tonight, as he tries to return the 49ers to glory.
The Saints, meanwhile, are only one season removed from a world championship, having defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. Head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees lead the Saints in their quest for another title.
New Orleans is coming off an 11-5 season in 2010. The Saints made the playoffs as a wild card team, but were upset by the Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers—expected to contend for the NFC West title—were a disappointing 6-10 last season, which ultimately got Mike Singletary fired. This is our first look at Harbaugh's new-look West Coast offense for the Niners.
A former NFL quarterback himself, Harbaugh will try to work his magic with the much-maligned Alex Smith, who has disappointed the 49ers and their fans since his arrival as the top overall pick in the 2005 draft.
Tonight's game has much more meaning for the 49ers, as they hope to generate some positive momentum in the lead-up to the regular season.
The starters for both sides are expected to see somewhere around 16-20 snaps. Following that, both coaches will substitute liberally and try to get a good look at their reserves. The battle for the last few roster spots will be fierce on both sides, so this game will be interesting for all four quarters.
The final score was New Orleans 24 - San Francisco 3.
This was a good learning experience for Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers. The first team defensive unit performed very well and looks to be a strength of the team. Rookie Aldon Smith got a lot of playing time and looked like he belongs on the field. He had five tackles, a forced fumble and one sack.
The 49er offense had a lot of difficulty even making a first down. Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick were constantly pressured and hit several times. The pass protection, which had so much trouble in 2010, still needs a lot of improvement.
Depth is going to be a problem for the 49ers. They do not have enough quality talent on their roster and that also showed up in poor special teams play. It will be vital for San Francisco to avoid the injury bug.
I was impressed with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Xavier Oman. All three backs ran hard and Oman increased his chances of making the roster.
The 49ers have a lot of work to do and very little time to get their team ready for the regular season. Harbaugh will begin expanding the offense and will find ways to make the 49er offense more consistent. The key is better play from the first team offensive line.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio looks like he has a good handle on the 49er defense and the more aggressive style of play should suit them very well.
Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh both played this game like a typical preseason game. They played it pretty close to the vest as far as play calling and formations. The only surprising thing was the very high frequency of blitzes called by the Saints' defense.
The Saints were definitely the more polished team and that's to be expected since they have had their coaching staff and systems in place for years. The 49ers made several mistakes, including penalties, missed blocks and poor tackling.
The 49ers' special teams blocked a punt deep in New Orleans territory, only to have a penalty nullify what would have been their best play of the game.
Earlier in the game, Joseph Morgan made the play of the game for the Saints when he returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown. The 49er coverage unit was guilty of poor tackling and failing to stay in their lanes, which enabled Morgan to break it for the distance.
Chase Daniel starred at Missouri, but his height at 6'0" and arm strength was a concern to many NFL scouts. He set several records for the Tigers and now backs up Drew Brees for the Saints.
Daniel looked good when given time and seems to have a good grasp of the New Orleans offense. If anything happens to Brees this season, there will be an obvious drop off, but Daniel is not a total loss as the number two man.
Colin Kaepernick has shown well in his first game with the San Francisco 49ers. He was under siege for many of his attempts, but when he had the chance, he made good passes. I was also very impressed with his mobility and he made a couple very good plays with his legs.
Kaepernick has a gun for an arm and his passes have a lot of zip on them. He has also thrown with good accuracy for the most part.
I don't believe Kaepernick will be the starter when the season begins, due to his lack of experience. Nevertheless, he definitely looks like he has a bright future with the 49ers.
The NFL has made a rule change on kickoffs designed for the safety of the players. Kickoffs now will be from the 35 yard line, as opposed to the 30. The result will be fewer kick returns, eliminating one of the most exciting plays in football.
An NFL study showed that a huge number of injuries resulted on kickoffs, which is the reason for this change. I do understand the players' side on this but it does take away a spectacular part of the game.
I have three major observations from the first half.
First, the Saints are much more in sync than the 49ers. My concern about the lack of preparation time for Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers is very warranted. The 49ers are sputtering, especially on offense and have also given up a special teams touchdown. Harbaugh is trying to implement a new system on offense and the lack of practice time shows.
Secondly, the defenses are ahead of the offenses in terms of preparation and readiness. Both defenses have played well, whereas both offenses have sputtered, except for the final drives of the half, one a Saints touchdown and the other a 49er field goal.
Third, the 49er offensive line and pass protection must improve. The 49ers have allowed six first half sacks. They have been totally over matched and both quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick have taken a lot of punishment in the first half.
At the half it's New Orleans 17 - San Francisco 3
The New Orleans saints defense is dominating the football game, thus far. They have harassed both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, resulting in five sacks before halftime. In addition, Smith and Kaepernick have been hit hard while trying to throw which subjects them to major injuries.
Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams is employing a strong four man pass rush, along with a variety of blitzes and simply overwhelming the 49er blockers. The 49er line has done poorly in one on one battles and they also have looked lost in blitz pickup.
The Saints have caused two quarterback fumbles already but were unable to recover either of them. The inability to protect the quarterback does not bode well for the 49ers.
Frank Gore looked good in his few plays and that's a very good omen for the 49ers. Gore is coming off a season ending hip injury and his successful return is critical to the success of the 49er offense.
Unlike in years past when the Niner offense relied on Gore almost exclusively, head coach Jim Harbaugh will not be afraid to use Anthony Dixon or rookie Kendall Hunter.
A key for Dixon and Hunter will be whether they are effective catching the ball out of the backfield and also blocking in pass protection. The better they can do in these areas, the more opportunities they will have to play.
Harbaugh is a master at utilizing his personnel and we should see all of these backs contribute in 2011.
The New Orleans Saints will take a close look at their three main running backs, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram.
Thomas is the starter for now. Sproles, the former Charger, is an ideal third down back and receiver out of the backfield. He is also a very dangerous and explosive runner. Mark Ingram, the rookie drafted in the second round, has great promise and could be a star in the making.
The Saints lose Reggie Bush and his explosiveness. I think where he will be missed the most will be in the return game. Joseph Morgan may be able to make people forget Bush, however, as he just had a nifty punt return for a touchdown.
The Saints lead 10-0 early in the second quarter.
Jim Harbaugh is banking on a productive season from his much maligned quarterback, Alex Smith. In fact, Harbaugh is on record as saying that he blieves he can turn Smith into a decent NFL quarterback.
If the first few series' are any indication, the 49ers' offense has a long way to go. Smith missed on a couple of throws but the real problem is that the pass protection has been terrible. Smith has been hit several times already, resulting in one fumble and two near fumbles.
The offensive line must improve or Smith will not last for long.