SANTA CLARA – Here are the grades for the 49ers’ 24-13 preseason loss to the Texans.
QUARTERBACKS: D. Blaine Gabbert, Thad Lewis and Jeff Driskel combined to complete just 47 percent of their passes. Gabbert was terrible early. He missed a few receivers by wide margins and failed to see a wide-open Torrey Smith deep down the right sideline. Then Gabbert settled down and threw a beautiful touchdown pass to tight end Vance McDonald. After Gabbert left the game, Thad Lewis came in and averaged a whopping 4.6 yards per pass before he left with a leg injury. Jeff Driskel replaced him, threw 12 passes for 20 yards and ran five times for 61 yards. After the game, Chip Kelly called Driskel the most impressive player on the third unit.
RUNNING BACKS: C+. I would give this unit an A+ – the team averaged 6.9 yards per carry – but both Carlos Hyde and DuJuan Harris fumbled in the first half, and I downgrade the running backs one full grade for each fumble. The past two seasons combined, Chip Kelly’s Eagles led the NFL in turnovers. Will that trend continue on the 49ers?
WIDE RECEIVERS: D. Jerome Simpson led this group with three catches for 29 yards. He had a good game and probably will make the final roster. Backup slot receiver DeAndrew White also had a good game – two catches, 23 yards. He probably will make the final roster as well. Other than those two, the Niners’ leading wide receiver was Dres Anderson who caught just one pass for 12 yards.
TIGHT ENDS: A. Vance McDonald was the most dangerous receiver on the team, catching two passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. On the touchdown catch, the linebacker covering McDonald (Benardrick McKinney) slipped and fell and left McDonald wide open. Easy catch. Still, McDonald made a nice move in the open field, avoided a tackle and scored. Great play. It’s clear the Niners want to get McDonald the ball “in space,” which is smart. He can’t consistently make catches in traffic.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A-. Anthony Davis gave up a sack playing with the second-string offensive line. The Texans blitzed, and Davis didn’t know who to block, so he blocked no one. Other than that play, the Niners’ offensive line was almost flawless. The running backs had huge holes to run through all night.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C. Shut down the Texans’ backup running backs, but gave up 7.5 yards per carry to the Texans’ starter, Lamar Miller. When Houston double-teamed rookie defensive end DeForest Buckner at the point of attack, they usually pushed him out of the play. Buckner is much more effective chasing runs from the back side of plays. He struggles holding his ground against double teams, as does rookie defensive end Ronald Blair. But Blair is the most explosive pass-rusher among the defensive linemen. The Texans had a tough time keeping him out of the backfield on pass plays.
LINEBACKERS: B. NaVorro Bowman missed a tackle in the first quarter as he dove at the feet of Lamar Miller. Bowman still looks slower than he did before his brutal knee injury. Still, he was the best inside linebacker on the team. The second-best inside linebacker was Nick Bellore, who recorded one sack and a tackle for a loss. He’s a dark horse to start. At outside linebacker, Ahmad Brooks registered one sack, Tank Carradine and Aaron Lynch played well against backups and Eli Harold did nothing. He’s a dark horse to disappoint.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A. Chris Davis broke up two passes and gave up zero catches on three targets. He looks like the overwhelming favorite to start at nickel back Week 1. On the outside, starters Tramaine Brock and Jimmie Ward also played well. In fact, every single 49ers’ defensive back played well except last season’s starter, Kenneth Acker, who missed a tackle and gave up two touchdowns. He’s a liability in man-to-man coverage and probably won’t make the final roster.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C. Former fifth-round pick Bradley Pinion kicked a 25-yard punt, and undrafted wide receiver Bryce Treggs looked scared. At one point he tackled himself during a return. On the positive side, 41-year-old kicker Phil Dawson made both of his field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder.