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Upon Further Review: at 49ers

Posted Aug 11, 2013

Andrew Mason took a second look at the game film from Thursday night's preseason opener.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo -- It drives some of us in the mic-and-laptop set nuts when a coach or player at a post-game press conference says, "I'll have to look at the tape," but there's actually a lot of truth to that statement. It's impossible to see everything that's happening in real time; that's why I watch games again -- and, frequently, again.

A few notes that jumped out from this weekend's re-viewing:
OFFENSE:
Julius Thomas: "I’m kind of indifferent about my game tonight. There are some things that I’ve got to improve," Thomas replied Thursday after being complimented about his performance. What he might have been referring to was his blocking, and two plays in particular: a 1-yard loss Montee Ball suffered in the second quarter when Thomas missed in trying to pick up 49ers safety C.J. Spillman, and the fourth-and-1 in the third quarter when he missed a block on the fourth-and-1, which helped defuse C.J. Anderson's run and aided the chain reaction that led to the turnover on downs. But Thomas also sealed the outside on Anderson's 17-yard run earlier in that series. When Thomas gets a charge off the line of scrimmage, he's an effective blocker; in other areas of his blocking game, he's still a work in progress, and needs time and repetitions above all else to improve.
Brock Osweiler: Two plays in the second quarter illustrated the extent to which he's improved from last year. The first was on an 11-yard pass to Julius Thomas near the right sideline; the coverage was tight, and Osweiler placed the ball perfectly outside of Thomas, giving him just enough room to get his feet down but also ensuring that there was no chance of a turnover. Two plays later, he looked up from his play-action fake and saw Will Tukafu, who had easily beaten Philip Blake on the inside. Last year, Osweiler might have frozen; this year, he stepped forward and turned a sack and potential strip and fumble into a 2-yard scramble. The next snap, he was caught in the pocket under duress and took the sack. Had it been a different game situation -- such as a two-minute drill with a deficit of three points or less -- he might have been more likely to make the pre-emptive move outside of the pocket, throw the ball away and preserve a field-goal attempt that was at the outer edge of Matt Prater's reasonable range.
The offensive line: The second half was better than the first for the backup offensive line. But there were issues in both pass and run blocking. Right tackle Vinston Painter, playing in the NFL for the first time, had his ups and downs and occasionally didn't react quickly enough off the snap. Parys Haralson in particular was a tough challenge for Painter; he's a 29-year-old veteran of seven previous seasons -- the exact opposite of Painter, who was not only making his first start, but only started one season at Virginia Tech. But by the fourth quarter, Painter settled in; he did a better job setting his feet and driving forward, helping spring C.J. Anderson for some solid gains. Center Ryan Lilja looked steady in his Broncos debut, but the learning curve is steep. Remember, Dan Koppen needed every day of the three weeks he had to learn the offense before being forced into the lineup last year, so patience is key for the Broncos and their newest offensive lineman.
DEFENSE:
Duke Ihenacho: There's a lot to like about his play. He's aggressive, reads the development of run plays well -- evidenced by his quick fill of a gaping hole to hold LaMichael James to a 5-yard gain on the first series and two other plays in which he got to the runner in the backfield. All was not perfect, however; he misread the flow of the play on a LaMichael James 9-yard carry and was unable to help if the linebackers had not successfully steered James to the sideline. I mention this only to remind you that even the best of performances -- and Ihenacho's qualifies, as far as the preseason goes -- are not perfect.
Stewart Bradley: Sometimes pass defense is less about making a play as it is about limiting damage. On the first possession, he twice brought down Anquan Boldin without allowing him more than one yard after the catch; on the second reception, he was in blanket coverage; had it been any tighter, he might have drawn a pass-interference penalty. But he was a step slow against Vance McDonald, allowing him to burst upfield for a 19-yard reception early in the second quarter. It was hard to get a read on the competition between Bradley and Nate Irving for the middle linebacker spot; Irving was more of a thumper in his work at the strong-side and middle linebacker slots, but his work at the "mike" came against lesser competition. 
Robert Ayers: One way he strengthens the run defense is in his ability to fight off offensive linemen. He took care of LaMichael James at the line of scrimmage 3:36 into the game by working back under and inside 49ers guard Mike Iupati, allowing him to corral James and prevent him from following his fullback through a hole. However, one play later, he and Derek Wolfe got caught behind Colin Kaepernick, allowing the mobile quarterback to take off and run for the first down. 
Shaun Phillips: It was mostly against backups, so take it with a grain of salt, but he looked as effective rushing from a down position as he did as a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker in San Diego. Whether it's as a complement to Von Miller or as a replacement if Miller's appeal of a four-game suspension is unsuccessful, he still appears to have plenty of gas left in the tank to power the outside pass rush.
Lerentee McCray: Late in the game, he had the crucial play in bringing the 49ers' last drive to a stop, using a spin move on Patrick Omameh to easily sack Scott Tolzein just before the two-minute warning, turning first-and-10 into second-and-18. McCray has a nice diversity of pass-rush moves, and if he can polish his work against the run, represents an intriguing developmental option and could turn into a long-term bargain out of this year's undrafted pool.
It drives some of us in the mic-and-laptop set nuts when a coach or player at a post-game press conference says, "I'll have to look at the tape," but there's actually a lot of truth to that statement. It's impossible to see everything that's happening in real time; that's why I watch games again -- and, frequently, again.
A few notes that jumped out from this weekend's re-viewing:
OFFENSE:
Julius Thomas: "I’m kind of indifferent about my game tonight. There are some things that I’ve got to improve," Thomas replied Thursday after being complimented about his performance. What he might have been referring to was his blocking, and two plays in particular: a 1-yard loss Montee Ball suffered in the second quarter when Thomas missed in trying to pick up 49ers safety C.J. Spillman, and the fourth-and-1 in the third quarter when he missed a block on the fourth-and-1, which helped defuse C.J. Anderson's run and aided the chain reaction that led to the turnover on downs. But Thomas also sealed the outside on Anderson's 17-yard run earlier in that series. When Thomas gets a charge off the line of scrimmage, he's an effective blocker; in other areas of his blocking game, he's still a work in progress, and needs time and repetitions above all else to improve.
Brock Osweiler: Two plays in the second quarter illustrated the extent to which he's improved from last year. The first was on an 11-yard pass to Julius Thomas near the right sideline; the coverage was tight, and Osweiler placed the ball perfectly outside of Thomas, giving him just enough room to get his feet down but also ensuring that there was no chance of a turnover. Two plays later, he looked up from his play-action fake and saw Will Tukafu, who had easily beaten Philip Blake on the inside. Last year, Osweiler might have frozen; this year, he stepped forward and turned a sack and potential strip and fumble into a 2-yard scramble. The next snap, he was caught in the pocket under duress and took the sack. Had it been a different game situation -- such as a two-minute drill with a deficit of three points or less -- he might have been more likely to make the pre-emptive move outside of the pocket, throw the ball away and preserve a field-goal attempt that was at the outer edge of Matt Prater's reasonable range.
The offensive line: The second half was better than the first for the backup offensive line. But there were issues in both pass and run blocking. Right tackle Vinston Painter, playing in the NFL for the first time, had his ups and downs and occasionally didn't react quickly enough off the snap. Parys Haralson in particular was a tough challenge for Painter; he's a 29-year-old veteran of seven previous seasons -- the exact opposite of Painter, who was not only making his first start, but only started one season at Virginia Tech. But by the fourth quarter, Painter settled in; he did a better job setting his feet and driving forward, helping spring C.J. Anderson for some solid gains. Center Ryan Lilja looked steady in his Broncos debut, but the learning curve is steep. Remember, Dan Koppen needed every day of the three weeks he had to learn the offense before being forced into the lineup last year, so patience is key for the Broncos and their newest offensive lineman.
DEFENSE:
Duke Ihenacho: There's a lot to like about his play. He's aggressive, reads the development of run plays well -- evidenced by his quick fill of a gaping hole to hold LaMichael James to a 5-yard gain on the first series and two other plays in which he got to the runner in the backfield. All was not perfect, however; he misread the flow of the play on a LaMichael James 9-yard carry and was unable to help if the linebackers had not successfully steered James to the sideline. I mention this only to remind you that even the best of performances -- and Ihenacho's qualifies, as far as the preseason goes -- are not perfect.
Stewart Bradley: Sometimes pass defense is less about making a play as it is about limiting damage. On the first possession, he twice brought down Anquan Boldin without allowing him more than one yard after the catch; on the second reception, he was in blanket coverage; had it been any tighter, he might have drawn a pass-interference penalty. But he was a step slow against Vance McDonald, allowing him to burst upfield for a 19-yard reception early in the second quarter. It was hard to get a read on the competition between Bradley and Nate Irving for the middle linebacker spot; Irving was more of a thumper in his work at the strong-side and middle linebacker slots, but his work at the "mike" came against lesser competition. 
Robert Ayers: One way he strengthens the run defense is in his ability to fight off offensive linemen. He took care of LaMichael James at the line of scrimmage 3:36 into the game by working back under and inside 49ers guard Mike Iupati, allowing him to corral James and prevent him from following his fullback through a hole. However, one play later, he and Derek Wolfe got caught behind Colin Kaepernick, allowing the mobile quarterback to take off and run for the first down. 
Shaun Phillips: It was mostly against backups, so take it with a grain of salt, but he looked as effective rushing from a down position as he did as a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker in San Diego. Whether it's as a complement to Von Miller or as a replacement if Miller's appeal of a four-game suspension is unsuccessful, he still appears to have plenty of gas left in the tank to power the outside pass rush.
Lerentee McCray: Late in the game, he had the crucial play in bringing the 49ers' last drive to a stop, using a spin move on Patrick Omameh to easily sack Scott Tolzein just before the two-minute warning, turning first-and-10 into second-and-18. McCray has a nice diversity of pass-rush moves, and if he can polish his work against the run, represents an intriguing developmental option and could turn into a long-term bargain out of this year's undrafted pool.