By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
The San Francisco 49ers sustained their first loss of the preseason to the Houston Texans Saturday night, 16-13. Although the outcome wasn’t quite what head coach Kyle Shanahan would have wanted for the team’s second preseason game, what he saw from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and rest of his starting offense should surely suffice. With that, here are five takeaways from Week 2 of the 49ers preseason.
The 49ers offense was humming
The 49ers couldn’t have asked for a better start to the first quarter. On San Francisco’s first drive, Garoppolo marched the 49ers down the field 78 yards to score the game’s first touchdown.
Garoppolo was a perfect 5-for-5 on third downs. This included a 40-yard bomb to Marquise Goodwin down the left sideline and a one-yard dart to Trent Taylor in the back of the end zone for San Francisco’s only touchdown.
Garoppolo converted on fourth-and-one on Houston’s 26-yard line to keep the drive alive.
On the next drive, things were going much the same until a ball thrown slightly high to Dante Pettis was tipped in the air and intercepted by Texans corner Johnson Bademosi. Garoppolo would finish with an 83-percent completion percentage (10-of-12) for 136 yards and a 107.0 passer rating.
Despite the not-so-perfect ending to an otherwise picture-perfect start, the 49ers should feel good about what they saw from their starting offense, even if it was in the first loss of Garoppolo’s San Francisco career.
The 49ers secondary needs help
For as strong as the 49ers’ offense looked to start the game, the defense — particularly the secondary — looked just as poor.
Right after Garoppolo and Co. marched 78 yards to score, the secondary was diced up by Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who took Houston 79 yards to match touchdowns.
Watson threw for 72 yards on the drive including a one-yard touchdown to former 49ers receiver Bruce Ellington. Ellington was left wide open after San Francisco strong safety Jaquiski Tartt blew his coverage near the goal line.
Ellington also broke off a 37-yard catch-and-run earlier in the drive after 49ers free safety Adrian Colbert missed a solo tackle near midfield.
In addition to Tartt and Colbert, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was picked on by Houston’s offense as he gave up a 22-yard gash to Texans tight end Ryan Griffin.
The good news for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is that the 49ers will soon be receiving some reinforcements as starting corner Richard Sherman and nickel corner K’Waun William are expected to return sometime next week to shore up the group.
More confusion with the new helmet rule
Kyle Shanahan was right two weeks ago when he said there would be some time getting adjusted to the league’s new helmet-lowering rule for coaches and referees alike.
Under the new rule, implemented in March of 2018, it is now a foul if any player lowers their head to initiate contact to any part of another player’s body.
The 49ers got their first tastes of the league’s new policy as they were flagged twice for illegal hits.
The first flag came after running back Raheem Mostert brought down a Texans punt returner deep in Houston territory. Mostert appeared to have kept his face up throughout the tackle but officials ruled otherwise, thus drawing the penalty.
Not too long after, San Francisco defensive lineman Jeremiah Attaochu was hit with the same flag on a pass rush against Texans offensive lineman Chad Slade.
Attaochu did not look to lower his head on the pass rush but did lead with his face, similar to Mostert, leaving questions about what the refs deem legal and illegal.
Clearly there are still some bugs to be worked out and some clarification to be given on this new rule.’
49ers interior defensive line looks deep
Without Solomon Thomas or DeForest Buckner on the field Saturday, the 49ers defensive line showed that there is plenty of talent to go around within the group.
Sheldon Day and D.J. Jones showed up to play in the Houston heat as the pair combined for seven tackles to help limit the Texans to only 73 rushing yards for the night.
Both Day and Jones have had a strong camp so their strong outings on Saturday should bode well for their chances of making the roster.
One thing that Day and Jones will have to improve on, however, will be their ability to finish on pass rushes. The 49ers recorded no sacks Saturday — not the best look for the defensive line.
Joe Williams is hanging on by a thread
San Francisco running back Joe Williams followed up an 11-carry, 27-yard performance against Dallas with an equally discouraging eight-carry, 18-yard outing Saturday night.
Although no other San Francisco running back was able to do much better, this second bad game for Williams may very well lead to him being cut.
This week the 49ers brought in former Redskins and Cowboys running back Alfred Morris after Matt Breida and Jerick McKinnon sustained injuries last week.
In addition, Shanahan gave the the most snaps at running back to Jeremy McNichols who took 11 carries for only 28 yards.
The 49ers will have to have a reason to keep a fourth running back on the roster and so far, Williams may not even be the fifth best back in the eyes of the his coaches.