The 20-17 win over the San Diego Chargers capped the San Francisco 49ers’ 2011 preseason that could be called an up-and-down experience. Well, really, it was down-then-up run through four games. But in each game there were signs of exemplary play as well as noted weaknesses. Consider:
Game 2 vs. Raiders: Offensive line performance was much better and it was clear that the 49ers dominated the line of scrimmage, though the low scoring belied that fact. At the same time, fourth-round pick Kendall Hunter emerged as a promising change-of-pace back from Frank Gore.
Game 3 vs. Texans: Poor offensive line performance again resulted in a harassed and harried Alex Smith, which ended in a low-scoring affair. At the same time, the second-string defense got lit up a little but backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick started to make some plays.
Game 4 in San Diego: A 14-play, 80-yard TD drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock? Is this the second coming of Bill Walsh’s 1981 West Coast offense? A crisp Alex Smith (5-of-6) who even ran out of the pocket at the right time? The Downside: Defense gave up one long TD run.
What does it all mean? What can be expected come the regular season? Here are five areas of intrigue that, if realized, could propel the 49ers atop the NFC West.