49ers beat Colts, but offense struggles

Alex Smith (AP/Darron Cummings)

The Niners' first-team offense gets off to a slow start, but backup running back Anthony Dixon, a rookie, rushes for 100 yards and subs make some big plays in Indianapolis.

It's really pretty pointless to put much emphasis on the first preseason game, but there's always plenty to absorb, analyze and criticize. That was clearly the case today for the San Francisco 49ers, who beat the Indianapolis Colts 37-17 (don't read too much into that score) but whose first team offense was far from sharp.

Here are some impressions:

1. Quarterback Alex Smith played into the second quarter and showed the same flaws in the game that he has in training camp. When Smith misses with his passes, he misses high, although one possible touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis was thrown behind the receiver. Presumably, Smith will get better with time, but his misfires and a fumble by running back Michael Robinson on the first offensive play of the game made for a poor start.

2. Starting running back Frank Gore didn't play, but the performance of rookie Anthony Dixon put Dixon at the front of the pack for the role of No. 2. Dixon came in with the second team and immediately gave the 49ers what they're looking for – a straight-ahead runner who loves to bang bodies but who also has some nifty moves. He totaled 100 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown (with the help of a nice straight-arm). He still needs work as a pass blocker, but the job as Gore's backup is his, at least right now.

3. The newly constructed offensive line got plenty of work, with rookies Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati playing into the third period with second-stringers. Iupati, the left guard, is a good one and seems to know where to be and what to do. Davis, the right tackle, will benefit from the preseason. In the first quarter, he was called for a false start and then gave up a quarterback pressure when Colts veteran Robert Mathis got past him easily. Center David Bass had clean exchanges with Smith.

4. There were some notable performances by non-starters. A few quick hits: Safety Reggie Smith scored the Niners' first TD with a 91-yard interception return off a Curtis Painter pass in the second quarter. Safety Taylor Mays made a nice open-field tackle of Donald Brown for a three-yard loss. Linebacker Diyral Briggs had an interception late in the second quarter but gave it back when he fumbled the ball. Nose tackle Ricky Jean Francois batted away a pass attempt in the third period. Linebacker Mike Balogun had six tackles and one interception. Bruce Davis, signed when Kentwan Balmer went AWOL, had one sack and six tackles.

5. Quarterback Nate Davis entered the game in the third quarter and finished 5 of 6 passing for 84 yards. He's been the team's No. 3 QB in camp, but he showed he might be capable of pressing No. 2 David Carr.

6. Rookie Kyle Williams helped himself in an effort to win the job as the 49ers' punt/kick returner. He had one kickoff return for 28 yards and returned a punt for 36 yards. Ted Ginn Jr. was the frontrunner, but he was just so-so, and Bobby Guillory did himself no favors when he fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter.

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