SANTA CLARA -- Precision. Anyone around here seen precision?
Once, it lived here with the 49ers. Now it seems to just visit sporadically.
Sunday would be one example.
After Sunday's 21-7 victory over the San Diego Chargers, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said the precision was indeed better than it had been in the first two exhibition games in which the team had scored a grand total of three points. But to be honest, this came as a surprise to those of us who noted that Sunday's first 49ers offensive series went this way:
To be sure, things did get a little better after that. But only a little better.
The 49ers' top offensive unit and Kaepernick possessed the ball for three more series in this, the third exhibition game. They managed only one first down in the first quarter, then put together a decent 55-yard drive in the second quarter that resulted in a 39-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. And then Kaepernick sat down.
So it seemed fair to ask Harbaugh what he meant by saying the 49ers' precision had improved. What did his eyes see that illustrated the precision?
"Just productive plays," Harbaugh said. "Had some plays that were cleanly blocked. We had some passes thrown and caught. And the runners were seeing the holes. Just all eleven playing together in a more precise way."
All right, question answered. But frankly, those examples seemed like low hurdles to surmount. Eleven men playing together? Passes thrown and caught? Harbaugh failed to mention that the 49ers also had their chin straps fastened properly. And not once did they run off the field to the wrong sideline. Presumably, they earned good marks for those achievements, as well.
Kaepernick, in his usual brief postgame remarks, was more critical in his own assessment that the offense's level of crispness and production was below the 49ers' standard.
"We have good plays," Kaepernick said. "We just didn't execute."
However, the quarterback said that the situation didn't concern him because "it's preseason."
Not for much longer. And that's the problem.
Look, my general NFL policy about August football has not changed. I refuse to diplomatically recognize the month. I have seen so many teams play so poorly in the exhibition season, only to go on and reach the playoffs. Thus, my rule regarding all August NFL developments other than significant injuries is this:
Ignore. Ignore. And then ignore some more.
However, following the rule can be difficult at times. Sunday was one of them. Something is clearly amiss with the 49ers offense. In the first two exhibition games, the group produced one field goal. Then came Sunday's other field goal.
Why, until backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw a touchdown pass just before halftime, the 49ers were threatening the franchise's record for fewest points scored in an exhibition season -- which occurred in 1947, when they played just one preseason game and scored 7 points.
What's the deal, anyway? The 49ers defense looked very decent Sunday, which was a good sign. But this season from the 49ers offense, we were promised not just precision but more splash and variety. The receiving depth chart is a big improvement over 2012 and 2013. Carlos Hyde, the rookie runner, looks as if he's going to back up Frank Gore splendidly. Vernon Davis is still in the lineup at tight end.
So where are the yards? The points? Much of the focus for the inconsistency falls on Kaepernick, for good reason. But the glitches weren't all his fault Sunday. He was under duress from the Chargers pass rush, was sacked once and whacked a couple of times.
San Diego has a good defensive front seven. But the 49ers linemen are paid to block them. The absence of holdout guard Alex Boone was a factor. But it was the non-Boone side of the line, with Mike Iupati and Joe Staley, that several times allowed the Chargers to pressure Kaepernick.
Not that the quarterback was blameless. As we all know, Kaepernick has assets that other quarterbacks lack. His legs and his strength are two of them. But he still needs work on more consistent technique with some of his "touch" throws -- including the pass over a linebacker's head that hits a receiver in the seam area maybe 20 or 25 yards downfield. That's what happened with the incomplete pass to McDonald on the first drive.
"I just tried to elevate it over a 'backer too much," Kaepernick said of the play. "It needs to be a little bit lower."
So he knows what he has to do. The 49ers offense knows. Harbaugh knows, too. When asked an open-ended question about his team's status at this point, the coach answered: "Just grinding. A lot of opportunity for us. Lot of opportunity to keep improving, keep working."
In Harbaugh-ese, the phrase "a lot of opportunity" can be substituted for "we're not close to where we need to be."
Davis, the tight end, is firm in his belief that the offense is ready to break out.
"Once we get rolling, once we get into our zone, then it's all downhill after that," Davis said. "We can do whatever we want, whatever we put our minds to. But it's just about getting into that zone. You have to find that zone. And it's hard to find sometimes."
They have two weeks until the opener in Dallas to locate it, along with the precision.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com.
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