Once, when asked about the complexities of football, Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi said the game really involves only two things: blocking and tackling.
So far in this NFL exhibition season, the San Francisco 49ers have proven adept at only one of those -- and it isn’t blocking.
In Saturday night’s 30-7 loss to the Houston Texans, the Niners’ offensive line couldn’t open running lanes or protect its quarterback.
San Francisco managed just 105 yards of total offense and, as columnist Tim Kawakami put it, “looked inept the entire way.”
While it wasn’t the sack-fest disaster of the exhibition opener against New Orleans, San Francisco’s line had numerous meltdowns.
Starting QB Alex Smith was sacked twice and hit hard several times, once leading to an interception. Backup QB Colin Kaepernick also was harried. And the running game produced just 55 yards.
“It’s not real complicated what they were doing up front, but they were getting us, they were beating us,” San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said of Houston’s four-man front.
Left tackle Joe Staley was beaten for a sack of Smith on the team’s first series, then left guard Mike Iupati was beaten for a sack on the next possession, reported Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. Later, new center Jonathan Goodwin couldn’t contain Antonio Smith, who hit Smith as he was throwing, causing his pass to be intercepted.
“I made a mistake and I’ve got to learn from it,” Iupati told reporters. “I didn’t play my game.”
The offensive line is still in shuffle mode. Adam Snyder started at center before Goodwin entered, with Snyder moving to right guard, Inman reported. Alex Boone also is getting time at both tackle spots.
With the offensive line unable to gain any momentum Saturday night, the 49ers were stalled.
“Looking to find something positive to say offensively is not easy tonight,” Harbaugh said after the game. “So I’m not going to single anybody out.”
He cited “protection, route-running, decision-making, all those things.”
One thing Harbaugh did note, however, is that, in light of the problems the line has had with protection, he will not use that as a factor to lean toward Kaepernick as the starter over Smith.
Smith, meanwhile, said that, despite the problems up front, he’s confident they can be worked out.
“It’s not something I’m worried about,” he told the media. “We’ve got a good group up front that works as hard as anybody and is talented.”
Now, the 49ers have just four days of work to prepare for their next test, their final exhibition Thursday night in San Diego against the Chargers.