This is the goal: Keep 49ers quarterback Alex Smith standing. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
As the 49ers prepare for Thursday night’s final exhibition game against the Chargers, there is much to ponder:
Is wide receiver Michael Crabtree ready to practice again, as reports are indicating?
Will running back Frank Gore and team execs be able to reach some kind of contract agreement this week?
And with the first round of cuts looming, what players will be sent packing?
But in the aftermath of Saturday night’s 30-7 loss to the Houston Texans and another disappointing performance by the San Francisco offensive line, all those other matters may be inconsequential if that unit can’t start opening holes and protecting its quarterback.
In two of its three games, San Francisco’s offense has failed to score a touchdown, and quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick have been consistently under pressure. Saturday, 49ers QBs were sacked three times.
The San Francisco Chornicle’s Eric Branch noted in his blog that the rush on Smith was so severe when he was taking a five-step drop that TV play-by-play man Tim Ryan said: “He can’t even get to his back step.” By Branch’s count, Smith dropped back eight times and was hit on five of them.
Said head coach Jim Harbaugh in a conference call with reporters Sunday: “It should not have been complex for us (against Houston’s four-man front). Yet we were violated at times.”
“No question about it, there’s work to do,” he added later. “We have to play better. We have to coach better.”
Harbaugh attributes some of the problems to bad technique, rather than communication issues.
“Some of it is technique,” he said, “some is fundamentals, some we got beat to the punch and weren’t playing with lower pad level and they were beating us off at the snap of the ball. All of those things were contributing and we need to do a better job coaching. … ”
Harbaugh told reporters the competition is still ongoing at center between Adam Snyder and Jonathan Goodwin. But Saturday night, starting incumbents Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Chilo Rachal each was beaten at some point.
As Harbaugh said Sunday, the line’s work to improve is “a process.”
So far, it’s been a painful one.