Last night, Nick Mullens led a late comeback to carry the 49ers to a preseason win. As we will be throughout the season, we at Nothing But Niners will be bringing you the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the 49ers’ games.
The Fans – showed up! I know, I know, when you go to read a game recap, you don’t care to hear about the fans. It was impossible not to notice that not just football fans, but 49ers fans showed up in droves to a Thursday preseason game! Zach was there and provided photos that showed the sea of red that swallowed up the venue. When I went to the Cowboys game last season, there were just as many Cowboys fans in the building.
The Defensive Line – was first to represent the second season in the Shanahan era! The defensive line got in the backfield quickly and often. Solomon Thomas appeared to be as advertised. We’ve heard all off-season how Thomas was working on a second move and not giving up on plays. Often, his first move was stifled but his motor and determination (not to mention the ability) to move on to a second move showed true. On the sack he recorded, Buckner did the damage and almost got the QB down, but Thomas was there to finish him off. That takes me to Buckner. Probably had the highest percentage of effective snaps in this game. It seems like Buck is going to be really good, but man, I hope he can start to turn some of these pressures into sacks down the line. Sheldon Day was someone that worried me going into the game because we had heard how disruptive he was during 1 on 1s in camp but how often is a defensive linemen left in a 1v1 situation? Well, it turns out it didn’t matter! Sheldon was double teamed and still managed to be disruptive. You didn’t see anything that will show up on the stat sheet but there were definitely really good plays by the young lineman. His first step was explosive and his hands were vicious!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a big man get this “skinny” and fight his way into the backfield.
The disruption jumped off the screen to anyone watching! Now, I’d be remiss if I spoke about the defensive line and didn’t talk about the most impressive player of the night; Jullian Taylor! I saw this young man working on kicking units, and I saw him taking opening snaps! I even saw him in the game making a crucial sack that granted Nick Mullens the opportunity to bring us back!
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. Taylor was far from perfect. But his first action in the NFL was definitely noteworthy. It would appear that John Lynch struck gold once again in the 7th round of the draft!
Richie James – made the best of every opportunity presented to him! In the absence of Trent Taylor, James was given the 1st team reps from the slot position and he took full advantage of it!
— Bobby Horne (@BobbyJHorne) August 10, 2018
The young wide out showed his grit and just how tough he can be if given the chance. Making some contributions in the return game (as expected), James didn’t even need to be on special teams to make his case for being included in the final 53. Hauling in 4 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown, Richie James Jr. left a lasting impression amidst the 49ers fan base, and I have a feeling he’s just getting started.
Nick Mullens – was playing like a man possessed! Finishing the game with an impressive 11 of 13 for 141 yards, a touchdown and 1 interception (that came off a tipped pass), Mullens came out to handle business and did just that! Nick came into the game down two scores and with little time left on the clock. The offensive lines weren’t doing their part and it was showing. Mullens didn’t flinch. He showed poise, great composure and was extremely decisive when he needed to be. Marching down the field during the 2 minute drill, he showed why he is still in the NFL. It’s hard not to get excited about what we saw from the young signal caller, but if all things were judged fairly, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Mullens should be competing for the QB2 spot on this roster.
We won the game! This opinion will not go over well with those reading this, so let me quickly try to explain myself. The later units fought hard and earned this comeback! The defense seemed to wake up, the offense was smart and methodical and we got what we deserved at the end of the game. The reason this is listed in The Bad is because the fan base and the players on this team seem to be under the impression that Jimmy Garoppolo cures all. I have seen occasions when someone will question the offensive line and it is quickly countered by “Jimmy’s quick release will neutralize any pressure coming his way.” Any time someone says that the team will win 5-7 games, fans quickly go into attack mode and throw out “Jimmy won his last 5 games; 3 of them were against playoff teams! And don’t forget that we lost 5 games in a row by 3 point or less!” Yes, I am aware of all that you’re saying, how can I forget when you won’t let me? But none of that matters now and it’s time for reality to set in. There was a missed opportunity to humble some fans as well as allow reality to set in with some of the players: The 2018-2019 season does not care what you accomplished in 2017-2018!
The Linebackers – made some good plays throughout the game (Foster with the downfield PBU, and Toomer made a few nice tackles), but other than that, the position group seemed to be out of position for most of the night. There were plays where Cowboys rushers were funneled to spots that a linebacker should have been, but they were nowhere to be found. These plays often resulted in 1st downs being given up at critical times of the exhibition. Elijah Lee looked to be a liability when on the field and Mark Nzeocha was practically invisible.
Casey Jarrett Beathard – picked up right where he left off last season; with opposing teams’ linemen in his face while on his back. The 2nd year QB was again seen standing tall in the “pocket” and showing that he is still fearless, but that wasn’t good enough. He finished the game with the most passing yard of the position group for both team but at times, it was painful to watch. Completing just half of his passes, Beathard showed the same grit that cemented his place in the hearts of the faithful. CJ had about 50 passes tipped (I’m exaggerating slightly) and no one seemed to know what his problem was. All off season we heard positive things about him; better velocity, faster decision making and improved accuracy. We just didn’t get a chance to see any of this in meaningful snaps. The reason CJ Beathard isn’t listed in The Ugly is because a large portion of his issues could be attributed to the offensive line. Things need to turn around for him if he hopes to keep his spot at the 2nd QB on the depth chart
The Run Game – was up and (mostly) down. As a unit, the team did not impress at all. Finishing the game with just 98 yards on 26 attempts (less than 4 yards a carry), we just could not seem to get things going. Individually, there were a lot of positives to take away (Joe Williams and Jeremy McNichols looked great in red and gold), but the unit could not seem to run the ball when necessary or consistently. McKinnon looked like he should never carry the rock (I’ll touch on this more below), Breida (who improved dramatically in blitz pickup… to his own detriment), carried the ball once for a hard fought 3 yards, McNichols had 3 really good carries, Williams showed great patience and vision and took what was given to him every single snap (even if it was just 2 yards or a 1 yard touchdown; both of which skew his ypc), and Mostert showed that he’s got speed on the edge. But the run game is about dominance at the line of scrimmage (didn’t exist all night) and hitting the holes in front of you for whatever the line blocked for. In my opinion, only Williams did that consistently. Again, the reason this isn’t listed in The Ugly is because a lot of the poor performances are the fault of the offensive line.
The offensive line – didn’t look good until the final drive of the game! The starters looked like it was their first time ever playing together (??), and the two guys who are supposed to be competing for the right guard position didn’t suit up! Confusion was running rampant along the line and it showed! The Cowboys got immediate push whenever they wanted, they disrupted plenty of passes and were making contact to ball carriers in the backfield about 85% of the time. I know that the unit will start to play better with practice and time, but week 1 will be here before we know it and that Vikings defensive front won’t care about the experience they have together!
Jerick McKinnon the running back – I may be overreacting here, but 3 carries for -4 yards is pretty bad right? I don’t care too much about the average per carry because you can only take what the line gives you and the line was playing with the Cowboys instead of against them. But there were opportunities for McKinnon to show of his speed and get to the edge to make plays; he just refused to do it. I know, perhaps it was the play call. I hear that. I understand that. But I also spent the week leading up to this game listening to head coach Kyle Shanahan talk about overcoming coaching! This play may have been designed for a run up the middle, and yes he got 2 positive yards after it… but if he follows the fullback, he’s getting at least 5, with his speed, maybe 15.
But even after that, there were mental and physical mistakes that concern me. McKinnon’s salary says that he is supposed to be a 3 down(s) back and should only have to come off the field to catch his breath. But I have personally never seen him run the ball consistently to have that kind of confidence in him. This being our first crack at seeing what Jet could do didn’t go over well. Look at this play where he just flat out trips over nothing. If other backs get faulted for fumbles (caused by other players), and WRs are faulted for dropping gimmes (see Pettis dropping the bullet to his chest), then we have to fault a RB for getting beat by the Buffalo Wild Wings Button!
Now, I don’t want you to think that I am putting all of this on McKinnon either. I said above that the offensive line is a large part of the struggles we witnessed last night, and that goes for him to. When running to the “veteran” side of our line, he still couldn’t get anything going. I’m sure things will get better but we all have to admit… it was pretty ugly last night!
Prepare for glory, anticipate pain, but always remain faithful!