From the looks of things, it seems that the San Francisco 49ers are ready to take on the NFL in hopes of securing at least a return to the NFC title game. Even some of the backups had solid performances, especially those asked to step up when three veterans were held out for undisclosed injuries.
Here are five takeways from the 17-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings:
1. Quarterback Alex Smith was sharp, even in limited duty. He completed his three pass attempts, going 3-for-3 for 16 yards including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brett Swain. Simple, easy night that led to an early rest on the sideline.
2. The running game, even without Frank Gore, who took the night off, notched 15 first downs on the ground, including a fourth-down conversion at 4th-and-1 from the Niners’ 47-yard line, and contributed 260 yards overall. Backup fullback Anthony Dixon got the lion’s share of the carries, rushing 12 times for 46 yards. Free agent veteran Brandon Jacobs gained 31 yards on four carries, all first downs. Interestingly, backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick took off and scored on a 78-yard run from the 22 on a fake handoff. The second-year pro went 5-for-9 passing for 40 yards.
3. Linebacker Aldon Smith will be okay, despite the scary moments as he was helped off the field. A bruised hip will keep him out of action for a little while, but Smith is set, along with defensive end Justin Smith (did not play) and fellow ‘backer Patrick Willis, are set to lead a defense that was staunch and stingy against the Vikings. The unit held Minnesota to two field goals, 5-of-13 on third-down conversions and 208 yards of offense. However, even though the Vikings gained just 82 yards on the ground, they averaged 4.3-yards per carry.
4. Depth might not be a problem this year, since the second team and, to a lesser extent, the third team each looked strong against their Vikings’ counterparts. Some argue that San Francisco’s second team might be better than at least a good part of the Minnesota first team. That’s probably not the case, but the 49ers’ backups were able to put out an encouraging performance.
5. Some of the youngsters made a statement Friday night. Backup linebacker Eric Bakhtiari, who played for Harbaugh when the coach was at San Diego State and is fighting for the fourth outside spot, notched two second-half sacks in one series. First-round draft choice A.J. Jenkins had two receptions for 20 yards, but it was rookie wide receiver Chris Owusu, who played under Niners’ head Harbaugh at Stanford, led in receiving with three catches for 35 yards. And in the oh-by-the-way category: Enigmatic veteran free agent receiver Randy Moss did not have a reception, though he did make it on the field. No big deal, really, since Harbaugh basically put every receiver on the roster into the game, aside from free agent Mario Manningham, who did not play.
San Francisco will travel to take on the Houston Texans next Saturday (Aug. 18) in Week 2 of the preseason. Cuts are coming folks, and it looks like the Niners will have some tough choices right away. Film of last night’s game, as well as from next week’s game in Texas, should give Harbaugh and his staff plenty to work with in terms of cutting from 90 to 80 on Aug. 28, then to the final 53 on Sept. 2.