The 49ers will not have a perfect preseason record this year. That’s good. However, they certainly didn’t need to be so emphatic about getting beat.
Most of the blame for this ignominious debut can be placed at the feet of Saints coach Sean Payton. Coaches normally agree amongst themselves to keep the blitzing to a minimum in preseason games, while teams engage in glorified practices in preparation for a new season. Payton ignored that tradition and played the exhibition like it was a midseason game. Afterward, 49ers HC Jim Harbaugh said, “They’re allowed to do that.”
But it’s a bit chicken shit and there is no doubt that Harbaugh will remember it and someday down the road run up the score on Payton in a real game, meet him at mid-field afterward for a what’s your deal moment, and say something politically correct like, “Eat my shorts, you jerk.”
The Saints forgot to impress anyone with their offense, however, and the 49ers stymied Drew Brees and Co. without resorting to any exotic blitz heavy packages at all. They did this without their starting RCB and starting NT, and with two safeties in the game who had never played together before. So which defensive effort was more impressive, Mr. Payton? The one that cheap shotted a new coach and team learning a new offense in a shortened offseason? Or the one that simply went out and put a cork in one of the league’s best offenses playing at home like it was a regular season contest?
The 49ers O-line looked worse than ever Friday night, and that is saying a lot, because they have been bad for many years. Will these guys ever learn to pass block? They better, or it will be another long season.
The best thing about this game is that it is over with. The new coaches have finally seen their players perform in a game and can start refining their evaluations accordingly. First round draft choice Aldon Smith held up pretty well in his debut, even recording the 49ers lone sack of the game, putting him on a pace for a sixteen sack season, give or take eight sacks one way and not the other. Ahmad Brooks looks ready to relegate Parys Haralson to the bench, which is not going to be an occasion of blogosphere weeping, by any means. Third round draft pick Chris Culliver played most of the game and didn’t get eaten alive, nor did Tramaine Brock or Phillip Adams.
It’s difficult to say a whole lot about the offense, since it didn’t get to do much of anything except trudge off the field one futile time after another. Anthony Dixon is going to slip to third on the depth chart or even right off the team if he doesn’t stop dancing around at the LOS. This is his second year and he should have gotten over that tendency by now, but he has not.
Like Rob predicted, this game was ugly. But it was a football game and it was great to see the team in action again. Now that Harbaugh has lowered the expectations of an entire 49er nation, we must be entering the nowhere to go but up phase. How far up is or goes is the question. More hints will be forthcoming next week.