While the final score in Saturday night’s 49ers preseason defeat was not an improvement from the team’s first preseason win, parts of the vaunted 49ers defense stood out in the second preseason game.
Mostly, the first-team defense kept to its consistent ways in a 20-9 loss to the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.
The first defense gave up a few big pass completions playing just the first two series of the game, but the unit did not allow a touchdown.
"They’re never in until they're in,” Jim Harbaugh said. “Our guys, as they do a lot, they tightened up toward the red zone and held them to field goals.”
The starters bent, but did not break during their first quarter playing time. It was a performance, which held true to Vic Fangio’s philosophy of “they’re not in until they’re in,” a saying that allowed the defense to go 15 weeks last season without allowing a rushing touchdown.
Midway through the second quarter, Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub connected on a 43-yard pass to Andre Johnson, but the 49ers held firm and did not surrender any points. Reserve kicker Randy Bullock missed a 51-yard attempt wide right.
Houston’s first offense remained on the field for the entirety of the first half, going much of it against San Francisco’s second defense.
The largest blemish for the San Francisco defense came at the end of the first half. Schaub led a 65-yard drive capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Lestar Jean.
All in all Harbaugh was encouraged by his defense’s ability to keep the Texans offense out of the end zone for most of the game.
Harbaugh tells his team to get better by one percent each day and despite the team’s loss on Saturday, two members of the vaunted 49ers defense showed the improvement needed to make the team during the preseason contest against the Houston Texans.
Those two players just may not have been the guys who most people expected to make the biggest impression.
Bakhtiari started at outside linebacker and showed why he got the nod to play on the first defense with seven tackles to lead the team for the second-straight week.
He stood out midway through the third quarter on a series in which the second defense allowed just nine yards. The Texans could only reach their own 20-yard line during that drive.
Bakhtiari forced a holding call, in addition to pressuring Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and notching four tackles during the series.
"Eric plays all-out every snap,” Harbaugh said of the linebacker who he coached for a season at the University of San Diego. “I was very impressed. He had a couple that he'd like to have back, but it's a good step forward for him. It was good competition for a lot of our guys who were in there.”
The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder has bounced around practice squads across the NFL in his four previous NFL seasons. Bakhtiari, who played almost the whole game, has performed on a level that certainly will not have hurt his chances of making the team this preseason.
Bakhtiari leads the team in tackles with 11 to go along with his 49ers-best 2 sacks through two exhibition games.
Michael Thomas made a game-changing play himself during the third quarter.
The rookie free agent, who also played for Harbaugh in college at Stanford, ended a 41-yard Houston drive with a blitz sack of T.J. Yates to force a field goal.
“It was just a play where I was trying to hold my disguise and sneak underneath our defense so hopefully they wouldn’t see me,” Thomas said. “Coach jokes about young guys going in there and not missing a layup. It was just right there on a silver platter for me. I just tried to make sure I got him down.”
Thomas, a Houston native, celebrated the sack more like it was a slam dunk than a layup as he erupted in celebration with his teammates following the play.
It was a show of youthful exuberance for a young player battling through his first training camp.
“A bunch of the rookie free agents were out there just trying to make plays to try and make this team,” Thomas said. “I took advantage of the opportunity they gave me.”