NFL preseason not the time to panic 

click to enlarge San Francisco 49ers running back Anthony Dixon. - CHRIS HUMPHREYS/US PRESSWIRE
  • Chris Humphreys/US PRESSWIRE
  • San Francisco 49ers running back Anthony Dixon.

At times, the NFL preseason should be called the overreaction season. The 49ers were down 17-0 in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos? Someone call Chicken Little because the sky must be falling.

Alex Smith fumbles a snap from under center that Denver recovers? See, Smith’s hands ARE too small after all.

Partly because of the NFL’s booming popularity, fans are craving football like a hot Thanksgiving meal, putting every snap under a microscope it doesn’t deserve to be under.

On Monday, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was even asked flat-out during a news conference if it’s “time to push the panic button” on the defense.

Really? We’re going there already?

Yes, the preseason is a vital time for players to work on timing and for the roster to take shape — and, in some instances, there’s something to be gained from exhibition games. Peyton Manning coming off a major injury and heading into a new setting with the Denver Broncos, or a young rookie trying to make a name for himself, are perfect examples.

The truth is, though, that preseason football is as meaningless as a politician’s promise.

So Randy Moss hasn’t exploded onto the San Francisco scene yet? Big deal. How many catches did he have in the 2007 preseason prior to his record-breaking 23-touchdown season with the New England Patriots? None.

Jim Harbaugh’s crew hasn’t looked dynamic in its preseason run thus far and likely won’t in Thursday’s exhibition finale, where if you blink, you might miss the starters’ time on the field.

The pass defense has looked suspect at times this August, but it wasn’t exactly on lockdown last season when it was 16th in the NFL.

Manning looked sharp while carving up the Niners’ defense on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean worry should set in. At least not yet.

The 49ers, along with every other team in the NFL, aren’t doing full game-planning yet, are using basic defensive formations and haven’t had their full complement of players.

That being said, will there be some regression in 2012? Probably. When a team goes 13-3, there’s not much more room for growth.

The 49ers were so dominant in certain areas in 2011, it seems almost inevitable that they’ll come back to the pack some in 2012.

San Francisco’s plus-28 turnover ratio and stout run defense — which was 15 yards per game better than any other team last year — will be hard to replicate, even with all 11 defensive starters returning.

The 49ers face a tougher schedule, with road trips to Green Bay, New Orleans and New England on deck, and they’ll have a target on their backs as the favorites to win the NFC West, if not the NFC.

But Harbaugh showed in his one season that he’s a master motivator who can implement his brand of football. The 49ers bought in last year, and there shouldn’t be any reason not to this year after they came so close to a Super Bowl in 2011.

If the 49ers find themselves down 17-0 on Sept. 9 on hostile Lambeau Field, then it might be time to pass judgment.

Until then, slowly back away from the panic button. Let’s save that at least until Sept. 10.

Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at dkruse@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @dkruse16.

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Dylan Kruse

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