It seemed like a bad sign during pregame warmups that so many balls hit the turf on the 49ers side. Receivers were running outs, and the quarterbacks were throwing balls that bounced near the middle of the field, up to 20 yards away. Even when the quarterbacks and receivers were on the same page, most of the passes were off-target. It was like watching a basketball team clank shot after shot off the rim during a pregame layup line.
The inaccuracy continued in a 34-0 preseason loss to the Broncos. It was a defeat marked by poor offensive execution and precision, according to Jim Harbaugh.
As for who’s to blame for the 49ers getting shut out by Denver a week after scoring just three point in their first exhibition game against the Ravens, Harbaugh wasn’t about to point any fingers. But while “Hard Knocks” won’t be allowed here until the 49ers are forced to let HBO bring their cameras through the gate, the days leading up to their preseason game could be called “Reality Week” for several players hoping to land on this roster.
That list includes the backup quarterbacks.
“We’ve got to get better. This is an important week for us. It’ll be a big week. We need improvement. We need to make decisions on who we’re playing. We’re not going to keep experimenting. We’ve got to tighten this down, fast,” said Harbaugh.
Peyton Manning moved the ball fairly easily against the 49ers defense, and Brock Osweiler and Zac Dysert experienced similar success. But the 49ers aren’t quite as worried about the defensive side, mostly due to who didn’t play (Patrick Willis, Tramaine Brock, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Ian Williams). Plus, a few players showed well individually (Chris Borland, Tank Carradine and Kenneth Acker come to mind).
Harbaugh is an offensive-minded coach, and as a former quarterback it’s not hard to determine what will cause him the most distress tonight when he watches video of this 34-0 exhibition loss.
“I thought the offensive line was good. I thought the running game was good/OK. Passing game, turned the ball over too much. We need better timing, better accuracy,” Harbaugh said.
Colin Kaepernick completed 5-of-9 passes for 39 yards, but he came close to connecting on a long touchdown throw to Brandon Lloyd. Kaepernick was also the only quarterback who didn’t hand the ball to the Broncos.
Blaine Gabbert, who struggled quite a bit against the Ravens and didn’t look much better during Friday’s open practice, didn’t take advantage of his latest chance to endear himself to 49ers fans. He completed 8-of-14 passes for 40 yards and threw an interception on his only downfield attempt, a throw to Quinton Patton that was picked off by Tony Carter.
“I think Quinton could’ve looked earlier,” said Harbaugh. “We’re off. It’s that kind of ‘off’ right now. It’s little, it’s correctable, but it shows up. That’s football. It punishes mistakes. It rewards precision and execution. We’re not a precise team right now.”
Josh Johnson completed 2-of-3 passes for nine yards and lost a fumble, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s stats (6-of-8, 79 yards) were inflated by a 48-yard pass that Denver cornerback John Boyett tipped into the hands of 49ers tight end Kevin Greene near the end of the game.
Greene took the ball to the 7-yard line, but that drive was stymied when Jewel Hampton was stopped at the goal-line on fourth down to end the game. Bethel-Thompson was intercepted in his previous series.
“I think right now, in terms of a backup quarterback, it’ll be as simple as who doesn’t turn the ball over. They’re turning the ball over – all of them have. There’s nobody to elevate. Whoever doesn’t turn the ball over will be the backup quarterback,” said Harbaugh, who gave the non-Kaepernick quarterbacks a halfhearted vote of confidence.
“No,” said Harbaugh when asked if the team might bring in someone new before camp concludes. “We’ve got good quarterbacks.”