Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
The 49ers saved their season, then nearly lost their season, then saved their season again on Sunday. It was a mess of a game defined by mostly stellar defense and far too many turnovers.
Ward played much more as an in-the-box safety, a la Jaquiski Tartt’s role. He was omnipresent on Sunday, consistently cutting off angles on crossing patterns and thriving as that “eraser” who shuts off plays with the potential to crack through the secondary.
He played in the slot against Cooper Kupp, on the outside against Robert Woods, as a quasi-linebacker, as a deep safety; Ward played in myriad roles and thrived in all of them, highlighted by the pair of fumbles he forced on Jared Goff and Malcolm Brown.
— OurSF49ers (@OurSf49ers) November 30, 2020
Before the game, head coach Kyle Shanahan called for players like him, who were playing well, but perhaps not at their ceiling, to take their game to another level. He did that Sunday, with Shanahan saying he “answered the bell.”
Givens hasn’t been getting enough credit. He opened the game by splitting a double team for a run stop, then recovering a fumble forced by Ward two plays later.
— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) November 29, 2020
Without D.J. Jones, all the more pressure was loaded upon Givens’ shoulders, and he was as consistently domineering as he has been most of this year.
Givens is built in almost exactly the same frame as Aaron Donald, listed at 6’1″, 285 pounds compared to Donald’s 6’1″, 280-pound frame. And he has similar movements, too.
He has a sneaky quick get off and uses that squatty frame to burst off the line and split double teams with an efficiency of motion that larger players don’t often have access to. He’s becoming an invaluable member of the defensive line, and San Francisco has him for another year on an astonishingly cheap minimum salary ($780k next year).
All the red flags in Moore’s game showed up again. Both of the Rams’ big plays were defined by passive tackling and poor angles to the ball: a 33-yard reception by Cooper Kupp and a 61-yard rush by Cam Akers:
Oh hello Cam Akers. Would like to see him switch the ball to his outside hand tho pic.twitter.com/abStMqIuJ0
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) November 29, 2020
Those deficiencies manifested early last year, and it’s why Ward immediately reclaimed his job. The 49ers spent a third-round pick on Moore’s outrageous athletic upside, and he’s clearly a better coverage defender than Marcell Harris.
But where Harris is a loose cannon, fly-through-the-hole type tackler, Moore sometimes shows hesitation. Both take poor angles to the ball, and in open space doesn’t look anything like Ward, who excels at cutting down plays before they go nuclear. Until Moore corrects his eye positioning and figures out how to attack ball carriers in open space, he’ll be a liability just like Marcell Harris, except with coverage upside.
It might just be that his best fit is not at the center position. But on the Jeff Wilson Jr. fumble, Wilson had a clear lane for a guaranteed seven-plus yard run. Instead, Sebastian Joseph-Day threw Brunskill to the side and simultaneously blew up the play at the line and forced the fumble. On a Raheem Mostert two-yard carry later in the second quarter (8:34) Brunskill and Laken Tomlinson miscommunicated on a moving double team and Joseph-Day takes a clear, unimpeded route to Mostert.
He was tossed to the ground by A’Shawn Robinson in the second quarter on another Mostert rush (4:20). In the third quarter, didn’t get off his initial block, allowing Jordan Fuller to cut through a gap and tackle Mostert for a loss of four yards (8:05 left in third).
Hell, he left Nick Mullens on a silver platter here against Greg Gaines, nearly causing an interception.
You may have noticed this is all without mentioning him against Aaron Donald, of which there were multiple occasions he got bullied. That is to be expected despite his stellar performance earlier in the year against him; it’s the fact that he had consistent struggles against the non-Donalds of the world that is so concerning. It just seems like Brunskill doesn’t have the right frame or leg strength to consistently anchor at the center position.