Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
The 49ers battered the New England Patriots on Sunday to the tune of 197 rushing yards and a 33-6 scoreline. The defense allowed 256 total yards, had four interceptions, earning Cam Newton a benching after his third.
It was a brute force display similar to the win over the Los Angeles Rams. No counters were available to the Patriots because they simply did not have the personnel to handle San Francisco running it again and again and again. Even their supposedly fantastic coverage struggled to contain George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk.
Jeff Wilson Jr.
There are fewer things more enjoyable than watching a running back go full-bull in a china shop. Wilson did that Sunday, and he’s kind of always done that. Sunday was just the first time he featured as the lead back. The most surprising part of his display was not how ruthlessly efficient he was, finding the end zone three times, just like he’s always done, but the burst he showed.
Wilson had the perception as more a power back with bona fide receiving chops, but he showed acceleration on Sunday. He hit the line of scrimmage with the speed a Kyle Shanahan back must have, and then he did the equivalent of spamming the truck stick in Madden; seeking out contact and doing bodily harm to as many people as had the misfortune of having to tackle him.
George Kittle confirmed as much about Wilson’s style after the game, saying he “goes to a dark place” before every game. “You can see it in his eyes,” Kittle said.
“The way he carries the football, the way he makes people look at him after he’s tackled,” Kittle said. “They’re like, ‘Why did it take four people to tackle that guy?’ and, ‘Why are two guys on the ground from trying to tackle him?’ Because he’s an absolute monster. He has one of my favorite mindsets. He’s a completely different person on game day. And it’s just this dark place that he goes to, and I love everything about that.”
Wilson sacrificed his body for his third touchdown of the day and his 112th yard on 17 carries (6.6 yards per carry), but he confirmed what we had already suspected: He’s a well above-average NFL back. A dude. And though he’ll likely be placed on injured reserve, Wilson has ensured that he’ll continue to have a job, if not in Santa Clara, then somewhere else this time next year.
This was the best version of Kyle Juszczyk. Full-on fullback-of-all-trades. He did the stuff his mentor, Vonta Leach, an old-school bruiser, would be proud of. Every time he runs a fullback dive for a touchdown — which he’s now done a career-high twice this season — another team drafts a fullback and implements 21 personnel sets.
Everything he did Sunday exemplified this offense at its best. He got out in space, where he excels, and set lead block after lead block. He had four rushes for 18 yards and a touchdown, the most he’s ever run the ball under Shanahan. And of course, he had to bail out Jimmy Garoppolo, who discernibly doesn’t know how to throw the ball to Juszczyk whenever he’s wide open — which is at least twice a game — and laid out for an 18-yard grab. He’s singlehandedly brought the fullback position back from the brink, and now that he’s doing the old-school dive plays, it’s somehow more enjoyable than it already was.
There were jokes made about it, but at this point, given how Jimmy Garoppolo throws a football, it’s beginning to feel real. After that ball sailed past Emmanuel Sanders in the Super Bowl, Kyle Shanahan’s mind may have re-imagined that scenario with a faster, longer wide receiver. The result? Brandon Aiyuk.
At this point, he’s established himself as one of the league’s most dynamic young wide receivers, and seemed wholly unbothered by a supposedly elite New England Patriots secondary, featuring Stephon Gilmore. When asked about taking that secondary to task for six receptions, 115 yards and one would-be touchdown if, again, Garoppolo was capable of throwing the ball more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, Aiyuk smiled and said, “… it was a good secondary.”
There was another long pause and a chuckle. “It was a good secondary I guess.”
Perhaps the rookie thought better about expressing his true feelings about a secondary he seemed to have few issues exploiting. He’s starting to find pockets of space with regularity, and with Deebo Samuel potentially out for at least next week, he’ll be leaned on even more heavily.
Moore was omnipresent and was frequently used as a box safety. He showed up in coverage, as an edge rusher, quasi-nickel and as that run-stopping safety. His six tackles trailed only Fred Warner, and he notched a pass breakup on third down, too. He wasn’t challenged much in the one aspect of his game where he struggled last season — his one-on-one angles against ball carriers in the deep third of the field, where Jimmie Ward excels — but he didn’t need to. His versatility was in full view.
Shanahan made it abundantly clear this week and after Sunday’s game that he wanted to protect Jerick McKinnon after using him on *gulps* 67 snaps, good for 92 percent of the offense’s time on the field against the Philadelphia Eagles. He had 14 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown and seven receptions for 43 yards in that game. It was bizarre at the time and even more bizarre in retrospect that he was leaned upon in that way with both Wilson and JaMycal Hasty available.
On Sunday, McKinnon had three carries for a grand total of -1 yards.
It’s as clear now as it was then that he’s far from an every-down back. He’s a third-down back who can make off-schedule things happen, but he’s slow to the line of scrimmage and not at all what this run game requires for sustained success.
His style asks the blockers to hold their blocks for a half-second longer than they should have to with a back like Raheem Mostert, Hasty or even, as proven Sunday, Wilson. He’ll surely be more involved next week, but Hasty is clearly the better fit for this offense as an every-down rusher.
“But Jimmy was 20-of-25!”
Wake me up when Kyle Shanahan displays any sort of trust in his quarterback and Garoppolo can go a game without three interceptable throws. Two of those were intercepted on Sunday (the second was a jump ball that Brandon Aiyuk could have done better for, but it didn’t even reach the end zone, so color me unimpressed), which usually doesn’t, but maybe should happen more frequently.
In every single game this season, Garoppolo has completed exactly one pass more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. One.
Almost everything else is behind the line of scrimmage or just past it it. He can certainly thread the needle in that 10-15 yard range, clearly, but every 10th pass in that range looks like that airmailed first interception.
Awful pass from Garoppolo.pic.twitter.com/YuKaTFq0BC
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 25, 2020
He’s getting stats from passes that aren’t passes. Look at Deebo Samuel. He is by far the last in the NFL with an average of 2.3 targeted air yards. The next-lowest? The Giants’ Evan Engram, with 5.1.
Samuel has a league-leading average of 13.5 yards after catch, 4.5 yards more than the next-closest receiver, Danny Amendola. The 49ers literally converted Samuel to tailback in order to get the ball into his hands easily and limit the potential for a Garoppolo mistake.
Garoppolo is last in the NFL in average completed air yards (3.7) and that’s by design. It’s worked against teams the 49ers can bully in the run game, but that’s not going to be viable against elite defensive teams. At some point, he’ll be asked to do more than “throw” half his passes behind the line while mixing in some wide open throws and the handful of “hey, nice throw Jimmy”-type throws in tight coverage.
He demonstrated what he’s capable of last year, but we haven’t seen that Good Jimmy this year.
the first play doesn’t bother me as kittle was open and the primary read.
the second one hurts because the pats blitz, making deebo the “hot read,” and at worst, he picks up the 1st down. his reaction is hilarious. looks straight to the bench. https://t.co/JdyE0VcnQi pic.twitter.com/FD1N3alQ7U
— KP (@KP_Show) October 26, 2020
He should hope he’s traded. Pettis sat the two weeks prior with Kevin White, a universally agreed-upon draft bust, getting promoted from the practice squad over him. He sat again this week for the third-straight week and has zero receptions on the year. His training camp did not translate. With Deebo Samuel out, he may get one last chance with this team, but there’s no evidence to believe that it will be in any substantial capacity. The one bright side for Pettis is that the 49ers’ next game comes Nov. 1, the day after Halloween. His last touchdown came in that Thursday night Halloween game against the Arizona Cardinals.