Article Title: From beginning to end it was a thrill.
The second pre-season game of 2010 for the San Francisco 49ers was a pure indication of Mike Singletary’s stamp upon this team in noticeable improvement in both the defense and offense was on exhibition from the Patrick Willis rock solid sack of the grand spectacle; “out of retirement Brett Favre to the measured success of Alex Smith moving the offense with efficiency down the length of the field and the safety sack by Derek Walker of rookie Minnesota Viking quarterback Joe Webb.” The 15-10 defeat of the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick was indeed thrilling to all the football human senses.
When you think about how incredible the Minnesota Viking defense was last year, being the top ranked rush defense in the league last year and Alex Smith methodically pushing the 49er offense on a 12-play, 70-yard, 6:57-long touchdown drive, I believe Alex just increased the ante that he is indeed focused on the task at hand. I saw a more confident Alex Smith in the huddle, taking snaps from under new center David Baas and fearlessly standing up or stepping forward from the pocket to make those crucial throws with Viking defensive human matter flying all around him. The two consecutive seasons he will have under offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye will prove beneficial to him and his ability to mature and stand behind a new and suddenly improved offensive line will and already has increased his chances of being a credible quarterback inside the NFL and for the 49ers.
What is even more amazing is that Smith did it with tight end Delanie Walker while Vernon Davis sat out with a strained knee. In fact he looked spectacular with 24-and-11-yard receptions. Even Ted Ginn Jr. and Dominique Zeigler helped move the chains on third down catches as Michael Crabtree watched from the sidelines with a strained neck. Anthony Dixon managed to bounce around the corner with outstretched arms to obtain a 4-yard touchdown while Pro Bowl running backs Frank Gore and Brian Westbrook rested on the sidelines.
Anthony Dixon didn’t however find a lot of running room as he was the main workhorse in this game against a very stout run Minnesota Viking defense. In fact he had 20 carries for 51 total yards averaging only 2.6-yards per carry. In all the San Francisco 49er rush went for 80 total yards and an average again of just 2.6-yards per carry. The passing game faired much better with 191 total yards through the air. 49er rookie left guard Mike Iupati and rookie right tackle Anthony Davis proved to be better than expected as they worked in cohesion with one another in blitz pick-ups and pass protection.
As far as run blocking the onus seemed to be on Anthony Dixon dancing too much before actually hitting a hole that would materialize for him. In all it was a continued learning experience for the rookie running back who admitted he was looking to make a big play too often of the time. But Singletary later admitted it was still a young offensive line in progress and wanted that to be made known from the start.
Defensively the San Francisco 49ers made a profit as well with rookie cornerback Philip Adams having a productive day as well as outside linebackers Travis LaBoy and Diyral Briggs who are battling to subdue Ahmad Brooks from that position. Pressure was applied on the Minnesota Viking three quarterbacks from various positions on the line, one being from defensive nose tackle Khalif Mitchell who was ultimately kept on the roster to take the place of the newly departed Kentwan Balmer and it now appears that it was the best decision to do so.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has really worked some magic on this group as it held the Minnesota Viking offense to 193 total yards of offense and only four third down conversions out of 14. They also collectively sacked the three Minnesota Viking quarterbacks four times for a loss of 35 total yards. It was a great day to watch our defense have their way with their quarterbacks. A bitter disappointment was 49er cornerback Karl Paymah who was called for a 19-yard pass interference penalty.
Then we have the issue of San Francisco 49er quarterback Nate Davis who was granted the remainder of this game outside of Alex Smith to prove himself with the back-up position to Smith blocked only by veteran David Carr. It was the honest hope of the 49ers that Nate Davis would eventually someday take the controls of this proud franchise sort of the way Jeff Garcia did for Steve Young upon his career ending concussion. He did have some very bright moments and moved the offense up and down the field but failed to put them in the end zone. Davis played the entire second half and even had a throw he launched for 60 total yards to Ted Ginn Jr. that was a thing of beauty. However outside of that he went 7-for-16 for 114 total yards and ended with a quarterback rating of 68.2%. Mike Singletary made it known that he was unpleased by the lack of consistency still and that Nate appeared to be simply competing against himself.
Despite Nate Davis’s medical condition of being dyslexic, Mike Singletary feels it’s not the slow learning process he thinks is the problem but his lack of effort to learn the offensive system like he should’ve been doing all during the off-season. Davis later acknowledged he had worked hard during the summer to master the system but it was obviously not hard enough and that he wasn’t going to surrender just quite yet. I think this is a talented young man out of Ball State that has the potential to be someone special in the NFL eventually. The problem is that the league demands that athletes learn at a very rapid rate and the demands of the quarterback position are instantaneous in most situations.
I am still cheering for Nate Davis and hope he will still show marked improvement by getting the offense into the end zone and showing a stout enough presence in the huddle that instills players to play hard for him. He must take command and he must win the utmost respect from his teammates via work ethic and by making significant results happen on the playing field. As far as the overall sense of 49er fans regarding this second pre-season game moving forward, I think we have a lot of optimism being created by the balance we are seeing out there on the field. Our offense is finally a major contributor to the context of the game.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.