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What We Learned from 49ers vs. Texans

Posted Aug 28, 2014

We learned the San Francisco 49ers are ready for the regular season and didn’t need to see much, if anything, from their starting units in a 40-13 win over the Houston Texans.

HOUSTON – We learned the San Francisco 49ers are ready for the regular season and didn’t need to see much, if anything, from their starting units in a 40-13 win over the Houston Texans.

Here are the key observations from Thursday night’s fourth and final preseason game of 2014:

No Kap, No Problem

The 49ers elected to rest many veterans on this night. Several were identified before kick-off wearing red 49ers fitted hats and sneakers.

The biggest and most notable hat-wearing starter was quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who surprisingly did not play, despite Jim Harbaugh saying Kaepernick would see the field in the exhibition finale. Blaine Gabbert got the start with LaMichael James in the backfield for Frank Gore.

In three preseason games, Kaepernick completed 12 of 22 pass attempts for 115 yards, to go with a 69.3 quarterback rating. He led two scoring drives, both led to Phil Dawson field goals.

The only offensive starters to see the field were fullback Bruce Miller, center Daniel Kilgore and right guard Joe Looney.

Stevie Johnson and Quinton Patton were the starting receivers.

Even without key play-makers on offense, the 49ers produced their highest point total of the preseason.

Williams Gets Reps at NT

Nose tackle Ian Williams was the only Week 1 projected starter on the field with the first-team defense.

Joining him on the field were defensive tackles Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie. The starting linebackers were Chase Thomas and Corey Lemonier on the outside, plus Nick Moody and rookie Chris Borland on the inside. Cornerback duties were handled by Darryl Morris and Chris Cook. The starting safeties were C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl.

ILB Competition Finished?

Does Thursday’s lineup mean Michael Wilhoite will be the Week 1 starter? It appears so. Vic Fangio did not need to see the inside linebacker play in the final preseason tune-up.

Rookie Chris Borland and second-year linebacker Nick Moody got the starts at inside ‘backer. Borland, however, made one last case to be in the starting 11.

Borland to the House

Borland played into the second half and enjoyed his best highlight of the preseason when he turned in a 34-yard, pick-six off Texans rookie quarterback Tom Savage. Borland read the throw all the way and stepped in front of Savage’s intended receiver to snatch the ball and run it back for an impressive defensive score.

The rookie linebacker’s touchdown gave the 49ers a 24-6 lead in the third quarter. Borland led the 49ers with six tackles.

Rookie CBs Play Early

Dontae Johnson and Kenneth Acker, two of the three cornerbacks in San Francisco’s 12-man draft class, entered the game midway through the first quarter on Houston’s third series to replace Morris and Cook.

Johnson broke up a Case Keenum pass to force a Texans 41-yard field goal from kicker Chris Boswell.

Johnson recorded four tackles and the pass breakup in his first series of the game.

Cook and Morris came back in the game two possessions later for their rookie teammates. San Francisco employed a consistent cornerback rotation throughout the game; Johnson led the group with five tackles on the night.

The cornerback roster spots appear to be the most challenging decisions for the 49ers personnel staff.

New Backup Center

Looney replaced Daniel Kilgore in the second quarter. With rookie center Marcus Martin sidelined with a knee injury, we now know who is San Francisco’s second-string center is in case of an injury to Kilgore.

Ryan Seymour moved over to right guard. Looney and Seymour paved the way for a 13-yard Alfonso Smith run to put the 49ers 1st and goal. Two plays later, Gabbert completed his second touchdown of the preseason.

Gabbert Leads TD Drive

Gabbert started the night completing just one of his first six passes, the first completion being an 11-yard strike to Patton.

On Gabbert’s seventh throw, he rolled out of the pocket to his left, and fired a deep corner route to Derek Carrier in between two Texans for a 32-yard gain.

Gabbert finished the 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to undrafted rookie tight end Asante Cleveland, who shook a Houston defender off his back and tip-toed down the right sideline for his first NFL touchdown. The drive took 5:28 off the clock.

Gabbert finished the half completing 4-of-11 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. He posted an 85.4 quarterback rating and added 11 rushing yards on two carries.

Johnson Makes Case for Roster Spot

The 49ers didn’t carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last year, but they could this season.

After a Chris Cook interception was returned down to Houston’s 13-yard line, Josh Johnson entered the game for Gabbert and completed his first thrown of the night.

It happened to be a 13-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Bruce Ellington.

Johnson completed his next four passes, but his sixth pass of the night, a slant pattern intended to Lance Lewis, was slightly behind his intended target on a third-and-5 from the red zone. Phil Dawson trotted on the field to make a 28-yard field goal to give San Francisco a 17-6 lead.

In the third quarter, Johnson drove the 49ers offense into the red zone, but a short out pass to L’Damian Washington was intercepted by Houston cornerback Andre Hal and returned 78 yards for a Texans touchdown.

It appeared as though Johnson made an accurate throw, but his receiver was unable to locate it and Hal was able to get his hands on the ball and take it the distance.

Johnson responded with his second touchdown pass of the night. He found long snapper-turned tight end Kyle Nelson for a 5-yard touchdown pass. Johnson adjusted his arm angle and fired an accurate, cross-body throw to put San Francisco up 31-14.

Johnson finished the game completing 14-of-17 passes for 135 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. He posted a 114.8 quarterback rating and added 34 rushing yards on six carries.

More Work for LaMichael

The third-year running back stayed busy in the preseason finale.

James led the 49ers with six carries for 39 rushing yards in the first half. He did not rush the ball in the second half, but he did stay involved on special teams. James fielded three kicks and two punts in the game, too.

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