San Francisco 49ers: 6 Winners and Losers from NFL Preseason Week 1

Gordon BlockContributor IIIAugust 15, 2011

San Francisco 49ers: 6 Winners and Losers from NFL Preseason Week 1

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    There are few positives to take from the San Francisco 49ers' 24-3 thrashing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. The offensive-line play was nothing short of atrocious, the defense made some mental lapses and overall the Niners looked unorganized to start the preseason.

    However, there were a few performances that were deserving of praise, along with a few that justify a lot less upbeat adjectives. 

    The overall lesson from Friday night: There is much more work that needs to be done in the next three weeks.

    Let's look at the six winners and losers from the Niners' preseason debut in the Big Easy.

Winner: Aldon Smith

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    Rookie Aldon Smith had an impressive preseason debut. Entering the game at the right outside linebacker position, Smith amassed five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. 

    Smith was one of many defensive rookies who performed well in their first game action. Cornerback Chris Culliver, nose tackles Ian Williams and Sealver Siliga, and defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs showed some signs they could be fighting for some playing time down the line.

    Rookie linebacker Kenny Rowe nearly had the team's highlight moment after blocking a Saints punt, but it was called off after the Niners were flagged for having too many men on the field.

Loser: Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick

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    Not a good game for quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. While many of the problems stemmed from the porous offensive line, both quarterbacks made costly errors even when given time to work.

    Smith missed several open receivers in his limited action, including throwing behind wide receiver Braylon Edwards and behind tight end Vernon Davis.

    Kaepernick rushed throws, which led to his two interceptions for the game. While he was proactive in sliding to avoid big hits (something he said he never did at Nevada), Kaepernick's reliance on rushing from the pocket could line him up with some trouble in the near future.

    The final stat line:

    Alex Smith: 2-of-7 passing, 10 yards, QB rating of 39.6

    Colin Kaepernick: 9-of-19 passing, 117 passing yards, 47 rushing yards, two interceptions, QB rating of 27.6

    The play of the two quarterbacks makes it easy to understand why the Niners are looking at Daunte Culpepper as a potential fill-in.

Winner: Running Backs

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    While the passing game mostly floundered Friday, the Niners running backs showed they could have what it takes to carry the load for the upcoming season. 

    Frank Gore was effective on limited carries (20 yards on four carries), while Xavier Omon surprised with a 17-yard carry toward the end of the first half. 

    Rookie Kendall Hunter also impressed, breaking off a 13-yard run in his first carry, speeding around the corner. Hunter ended the game averaging just over four yards a carry (29 yards on seven carries).

Loser: The Entire Offensive Line

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    It's tough for any quarterback to succeed without time to operate in the pocket. The Saints weren't afraid to send extra defenders toward the quarterback, and their efforts were rewarded with six sacks, including a devastating hit on Alex Smith early. Almost everybody on the line had a few assignments missed.

    The group of players lining up at center, including Jonathan Goodwin, Adam Snyder, Tony Wragge and Chase Beeler, drew several penalties and sent a few errant snaps that made things difficult for their respective quarterbacks.

    Not to say the blame can be focused solely on the line. The running backs and tight ends playing through the evening had several lapses that led to sacks and backfield tackles.

    The offensive line will be something that will be getting plenty of attention through the rest of the preseason.

Winner: David Akers

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    Kicker David Akers, signed away from the Philadelphia Eagles over the offseason, made a great first impression in his debut Friday. The kicker blasted an unreal 59-yard field goal at the end of the third quarter, the only points the Niners would have all day.

    His regular season best is a 57-yard attempt he made in 2003.

    Akers led an overall strong effort for the special teams unit. Andy Lee averaged just under 47 yards a punt, and backup kicker Fabrizio Scaccia was effective in two kickoffs (one of them an onside kick). 

    If the unit can avoid big mistakes, like when they allowed a long punt return touchdown in the second quarter, the special teams unit will be one of the few shining portions of the roster. 

Loser: Jim Harbaugh

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    The Saints made it clear that they were going to play hard from the get-go (especially from the defensive side). Ignoring the traditional approach of bringing vanilla rushes in preseason games, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton brought the blitz 18 times.

    Welcome to the NFL, Coach Harbaugh!

    While Harbaugh had to have known the lockout was going to have an adverse effect on his team's readiness for the season, he may not have realized the issues he would have to overcome.

    The offensive line at this point is more offensive than line. There are some major holes to fill in the defense, particularly in the secondary. There is no clear winner in the battle for the starting quarterback job.

    The Niners as they stand just aren't ready for the regular season. Like I said before, there is still much work left to do.

    Despite these difficulties, Harbaugh shouldn't be too critical about not leaving Friday's game with the win.

    While the preseason is important in terms of determining starting lineups and getting players up to game speed, that readiness is not directly connected to wins and losses. 

    As a good example of this, the Niners were a perfect 4-0 last postseason under then-head coach Mike Singletary. That early success led to a not so impressive 6-10 in the regular season.