49ers coach Jim Harbaugh kept repeating the same phrases in the wake of his team's 20-9 drubbing in Houston, "Was it us? Was it them?"
Harbaugh also said he never got a feel for how his team performed. "I wish I had a feel," he said.
Harbaugh's statements make some sense. The Texans scored one of their touchdowns when their first-team offense went down the field right before the half on the 49ers' second-team defense. Their other touchdown came early in the fourth quarter on a 87-yard punt return by Trindon Holliday, when the 49ers had backup special teams players on the field.
However, old issues seemed to rear their ugly heads in this game. The 49ers once again struggled with pass protection, which is what happened last preseason against the Texans, and which persisted into the regular season.
Starting quarterback Alex Smith was sacked twice, harried often and hit hard constantly during his two-drive stint to start the game. And all this happened against a team missing two of their best defensive linemen in J.J. Watt and Shaun Cody.
The Texans rarely blitzed, meaning all the pressure resulted from individual breakdowns on the line and from the quarterback, something Smith willingly admitted.
"Most of it was self-inflicted by me," Smith said. "The O-Line played good. First play was a miscommunication with me and the other 10 guys in the huddle, and that resulted in a hit."
Smith also seemed to lose pocket presence as the pressure continued to mount. With all that said, Smith continued to move the team. He marched the 49ers 44 yards in nine plays to set up David Akers' 50-yard field goal. A 58-yard drive ensued on his second and last drive, which ended when running back Anthony Dixon was stopped short on 4th-and-1 from the Texans' 20.
Defensively, coordinator Vic Fangio said he wanted the first team to play better and possibly stuff the opposing first team offense. He said that after his starting unit sputtered versus the Vikings' offensive-challenged first team in the exhibition opener.
That didn't happen with Texans quarterback Matt Schaub peppering the defense with three straight completions to start the game, including a 22-yard strike to Keshawn Martin. Schaub stood in a clean, well-formed and seemingly impenetrable pocket.
The 49ers started Eric Bakhtiari and Parys Haralson at outside linebacker because of injuries to starters Aldon Smith (hip) and Ahmad Brooks (leg).
A huge development in the game was the play of first-round rookie A.J. Jenkins. The speedy receiver has been erratic in training camp, but he exhibited his speed in this game. Jenkins flew past the Texans' secondary four times, but 49ers quarterbacks misfired on passes to him three times. With well-thrown passes, Jenkins could have scored at least twice. As it was, he caught one pass for 32 yards.
Jenkins also got himself open consistently in the exhibition opener but dropped two passes. It makes everyone wonder just what kind of player Jenkins will eventually become. It's a question no one should ask Harbaugh. He can't get a feel.