An ugly Week 1 affair saw the 49ers, momentarily, drop to the bottom of the NFC West. The 24-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was a stagnant performance typified by wasted opportunities, sloppiness, and a lack of execution which, last year, would have been there.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s stat line does not bely the stinker of a game he had. He’s bailed out largely by the 76-yard touchdown he had to Raheem Mostert on the same Texas route which Jeff Wilson used to effectively walk off against the Cardinals last year. Garoppolo was 18-of-32 for 183 yards with one touchdown outside of that; an easy ball to Jerick McKinnon.
When it mattered, Garoppolo failed. That’s not to say he did not have an abundance of factors working against him. He had a third-string center in Hroniss Grasu and a first-time guard in Daniel Brunskill protecting him, though that showed up more in the run game than in the pass game. Of his three sacks, one was entirely self-caused and one could have been avoided by getting rid of the ball.
The two things I wanted to see from Garoppolo to show he’d improved were going through his progressions quicker and being more accurate on throws past 15 yards, especially towards the boundaries. He looked like he regressed to his Week 1 self from last year in that respect. By my count, there were at least six total occasions (three in either half) when Garoppolo failed to find an open target by going through his progressions. Now, the receiving corps was horrendous, but when they did find space (usually Kendrick Bourne), Garoppolo was too locked in on his initial read to find them.
Before he found McKinnon for the go-ahead score, he missed Raheem Mostert, sitting, waiting, pleading, open in the end zone for him to throw it. Bourne had broken open deep for a potential touchdown two plays prior. And when it was crunch time, Bourne broke free again. Garoppolo had to make the throw, he missed it.
Yes, the interior offensive line was new and unreliable. Yes, the receiving corps was depleted. Yes, George Kittle was hurt in the second half. But the 49ers are banking on growth from their franchise quarterback and that didn’t show on Sunday. One factor that should not be ignored: the lack of fans. Garoppolo has always been a gamer, performing far better in real game situations than practice. The lack of fans may be an issue for him, at least at this juncture.
Running backs: A-
I don’t really have much to criticize with this group. Raheem Mostert was mostly solid, but forced to run an unhealthy dose of outside shotgun runs which failed due to missed blocks from Daniel Brunskill, Kendrick Bourne and even George Kittle (had two missed blocks on Sunday). For the issues they had with the center and right guard, Mostert had a fair few impressive carries (15 for 56 yards, 4 receptions for 94 yards, 1 TD), and Jerick McKinnon looked like a capable second back and receiving option (3 carries, 24 yards, 3 receptions, 20 yards, 1 TD). Even Tevin Coleman, limited, discernibly by poor air quality and having a pre-existing condition as a sickle cell trait carrier, had a six-yard catch and four carries for 18 yards. I would have liked to see Wilson Jr., who was active and proved himself a touchdown machine last year, be used at the very least, in the goal line situation where Mostert failed to score.
Wide receivers: D-
I wanted to give this group an F. Dante Pettis certainly deserved one, and Trent Taylor, with two catches for six yards, was borderline nonexistent despite being targeted on the final two plays of the game. But Kendrick Bourne had a decent game, despite just having two catches for 34 yards. He had one touchdown opportunity which Garoppolo simply did not see him on and another, for the game-winner, where he had to try and fair catch the ball because he was thrown, essentially, a pooch punt. If that last throw is on target, Bourne finishes with 3 catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Not stellar, but serviceable, also given that he was mostly shadowed by Patrick Peterson.
Offensive line: C-
Maybe this is too harsh. Trent Williams was Trent Williams, meaning I can’t remember him making a mistake. He also almost killed a man on a block. He and Laken Tomlinson were the dominant part of the line, as expected, and the run game would have had far more success if either of Daniel Brunskill or Hroniss Grasu could have been effective with pull blocks. Mike McGlinchey was also generally solid against Chandler Jones. But Brunskill had a horror show of a day, by my count, missing five blocks. Grasu missed at least three. In the pass game, they were generally reliable, which seems odd, but in the run game, they were bullied constantly, with Angelo Blackson sonning both of them. The 49ers only ran the ball 23 times for 123 yards because that part of the line was a liability.
Defensive line: B+
Not a faultless performance, but impressive. The defensive line was far more effective at stopping Kenyan Drake than in prior meetings (16 carries, 60 yards) as well as Chase Edmonds (6 carries, 26 yards) aside from a few, mostly early runs. They were beaten by Kyler Murray’s scrambling, but that’s not really on them. The 49ers perhaps should have employed a spy to follow Murray, because once he was past the line of scrimmage, there was no one tracking him most of the time. Nick Bosa, by my count, had six pressures. Arik Armstead had three. Javon Kinlaw had two, as did Kerry Hyder and D.J. Jones.
The disappointment was Dee Ford. He was rarely a factor in the pass rush and a net negative in the run game. Solomon Thomas, as usual, had some flashes, but was wholly underwhelming. Kinlaw and Hyder had the most encouraging performances by far. Kinlaw’s pad level looked better than in camp and while he, as expected, got lost in blocks on some plays, he nearly sacked Murray and had a nice run stop. Hyder, for his part, was Ronald Blair 2.0, showing he can be used anywhere along the line, and coming up with the opening sack of the year. He’s a key piece for this team.
The 49ers went to their base 4-3 far more than was expected, and in hindsight, far more than they should have. They were picked apart in coverage, and while they threw out Tarvarius Moore twice for some big nickel looks, they should have looked to get him out there on a regular basis given what Deandre Hopkins (14 catches, 151 yards, 1 almost-TD) did to them. Fred Warner of course looked like an All-Pro. He wasn’t faultless, but was not to blame in the slightest for this loss. Dre Greenlaw, when out there, was not targeted, and forced the interception on Murray with a swatted ball at the line of scrimmage.
But Kwon Alexander had a rough day. He looks closer to the guy who returned from a pectoral tear weeks before he should have, and who also had a bicep surgically repaired this offseason. His tackling is tentative, a far cry from the flying-around-the-field-type play which exemplified his style last year. More than anything, though, he appeared slow. He was caught off guard in coverage, and by my count, had four combined missed tackles or failed tackle opportunities (i.e. a one-on-one and he got juked). He did poke out a fumble and had nine total tackles, including one for a loss, but he looked well off the pace, and it wouldn’t shock me if Dre Greenlaw takes his job.
As a group, the linebackers did not effectively prevent the Kyler Murray scrambles. They got stuck in coverage and didn’t turn back to the ball quick enough.
Defensive backs: B
K’Waun Williams was stellar. Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt still look like an elite safety pairing. The couple of snaps Tarvarius Moore saw were encouraging. Richard Sherman was picked on a couple of times, but otherwise solid. Emmanuel Moseley… well, he made a lot of tackles: a tied for game-high 15 to be exact. But he was sauced by Hopkins. Granted, he’s maybe the toughest assignment in the NFL. Still, there were too many times when Moseley was just too slow to react. He did not have a single pass breakup on the day, nor was he particularly close.
In the grand scheme, the defense was impressive and was gassed by the fact they had to play 82 defensive snaps, the most they’ve had to play in the past two seasons. The loss was not on their shoulders, but last year, that coverage bust allowing the near Hopkins touchdown doesn’t happen, and they at least hold the Cardinals to a game-tying field goal.
Special teams: D+
It’s hard to square the first Robbie Gould 50-plus-yard field goal (52 yards) in two years with an egregious mistake on a punt. Long snapper Kyle Nelson opted to go for a double team block, leaving Dontae Johnson out to dry and responsible for two rushers. It resulted in a free Cardinals touchdown. I’m of the mind that the punt block is far more harmful than the field goal is beneficial. The punt returning by the 49ers was fine.