Here are my grades for the 49ers preseason game against the Denver Broncos.
QUARTERBACKS: B. Alex Smith and the first-team offense was 1-for-4 on third down and 0-for-1 in the red zone (Peyton Manning was 2-3 on third down and 2-2 in the red zone). Smith did complete 5 of 7 passes, including a deep TD to Vernon Davis. Smith also had one fumbled snap, one delay-of-game penalty and two timeouts before the play clock hit zero. Colin Kaepernick completed all four of the passes he attempted. He did not convert any third downs or throw any touchdowns.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-. Joe Staley gave up one sack to Elvis Dumervil, and Mike Iupati got flagged for a false start.
RUNNING BACKS: B. Frank Gore carried the ball twice, once for a 1-yard gain and once for a 5-yard loss. Kendall Hunter had an 11-yard run, but Anthony Dixon was the running back of the day. He rushed 13 times for 58 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run. Now he has a good shot to make the team, and if he happens to get cut he’ll surely get picked up by another team.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C+. Michael Crabtree caught Alex Smith’s only third down conversion – a four-yard gain on third-and-1. Randy Moss was targeted one time on a deep pass but he was triple-covered and Smith overthrew him. Kyle Williams had the best day of the Niners receivers, turning a short catch into a 45-yard gain. Ted Ginn Jr. appeared to hurt his right ankle on an end around. A.J. Jenkins caught one and dropped another.
TIGHT ENDS: B+. Vernon Davis ran away from the defense and got himself wide open on his long TD catch. That was a terrific effort. Konrad Reuland caught a 16-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B. They didn’t get pressure on the Broncos’ QBs, but they did limit Denver’s running backs to 3.2 yards per carry.
LINEBACKERS: C. Larry Grant started in place of NaVarro Bowman and recorded 9 tackles, but he also missed a couple and got beat on a deep pass to a running back. Patrick Willis got juked on a long run by Willis McGahee. Aldon Smith didn’t play, and as a result the Niners got almost zero pass rush. It’s obvious he’s one of the most valuable players on the team.
SECONDARY: D. Peyton Manning made this group look bad. Carlos Rogers gave up a 16-yard completion and a touchdown to Eric Decker. Dashon Goldson failed to cover the back of the end zone on Manning’s second touchdown pass to Decker, and Tramaine Brock got beat all afternoon. Perrish Cox did intercept a bad pass, but he gave up a few completions, too.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. David Akers made all five of his field goal attempts.
COACHING: D. Jim Harbaugh seemed to play for the win after his starters gave up a 14-point deficit by halftime – that’s the only way I can understand Akers attempting five field goals in a preseason game. At one point, Harbaugh decided to make Akers kick a very short field goal rather than let the offense try to convert a fourth-and-goal from the 3 yard line. That was a great opportunity to let the offense go for it and gain some confidence in their weakest area – the red zone.
The Niners are now three games into the preseason and they’ve shown no improvement in the red zone or on third down. It’s possible Harbaugh is saving all his Year 2 tricks for the regular season, but so far this preseason the offense looks the same as last year, and the defense looks worse.