Nineteen carries, 104 yards and a touchdown on your career debut? Yeah, that’ll do. It’s hard to take fault with about anything Mitchell did on Sunday. Raheem Mostert went down and the offense didn’t lose a beat. He became the first rookie in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards on his debut.
When the 49ers drafted Mitchell, it was immediately apparent that his skillset was the most comparable to Mostert’s. He has the aggression and downhill speed required to burst through a hole at the line of scrimmage while already running full speed. Some backs are more deliberate in their approach, and while that’s sometimes required, especially on slower-developing plays, the Shanahan offense dictates its running backs attack the hole they’re told to run through.
Another trait he showed was his ability to fight and fall for extra yards. He escaped one tackle and turned it into a five-plus yard gain, and was hit at the line of scrimmage and effectively jumped forward for three. He’s consistently working to find additional positive yardage.
Running backs coach Bobby Turner raved about Mitchell to KNBR in training camp.
“He’s what he thought he was,” Turner said. “He’s a big play guy. Big play guy. He has the speed, the overall foot quickness and the mindset. He wants to be good, he wants to be coached. And that’s with both players. They want to be great.”
“Oh, and the other thing is, he’s a stand up guy. ‘Hey coach, I should have done this better,’ he’s all ears. He’s all ears and eyes and all he’s going to be doing is getting better, but he has the athletic skills. Now he just needs some playing time.”
Well, Mitchell’s getting that playing time now, and for at least the next eight weeks, it looks like he’s the guy.
Garoppolo played well, which the stats (17-of-25, 319 yards, one touchdown) belied.
He, of course, missed on a couple of occasions, especially with the ball thrown behind Deebo Samuel on third down which could have helped avoid the late-game intrigue, and he threw another pass behind Trent Sherfield which had interception potential, but that’s a bit nit-picky at this point. The 79-yard touchdown to Samuel, also, was a 50-50 ball which Samuel made an incredible play on, and one in which Jeff Okudah could have turned and broken up or picked off. The decision to throw it was necessary and intelligent, not to mention that Garoppolo was hit as he threw, but the ball carried towards the inside of the field and left a lot of work for Samuel to do, which he did.
But those criticisms out of the way, Garoppolo had a fantastic game overall. He played within the scheme of the offense, hit throws on time, and with the Lions leaving open his favorite throw — the deep in to Deebo Samuel — he was more than happy to oblige them and take it again and again. Garoppolo didn’t have many head-scratching moments and largely avoided making interceptable throws. He also made sure the 49ers got a field goal at the end of the first half by throwing the ball away quickly when his preferred look wasn’t there.
Perhaps most impressive was his ability to feel pressure and get rid of the ball before it got to him, like on the touchdown to Samuel. Also, his ability to escape a blitz and turn it into positive yardage is the most tangible improvement his made this offseason. Garoppolo is more comfortable using his feet and his feel for when to step up and try and run seems to have taken a leap, too. Now, this isn’t drinking the kool-aid that Garoppolo is going to make some sort of leap to being a top-10 quarterback, but him showing some ability to get away from pressure is a pretty substantial development worth tracking.
What a debut for a player who was projected by many to be a slot corner backup and strict special-teamer to open the season. Instead, Lenoir played a ridiculous 90 defensive snaps (98 percent), plus four on special teams, leading the entire team.
In those snaps, he allowed exactly one reception for three yards against him. He also got called for defensive pass interference once, though it wasn’t an egregious penalty.
49ers' CB Deommodore Lenoir as a nearest defender, per NFL Next Gen Stats:
55 coverage snaps, 4 targets, 1 reception, 3 yards allowed.
Numbers-wise that's quite the debut for the 5th-round rookie.
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 12, 2021
The fact that the 49ers found money again in the fifth round with Lenoir is further proof that they should never draft any players outside of the fifth round. Jokes aside, this was a massive performance from the rookie without Emmanuel Moseley and with Jason Verrett going down for the season late in the game. Granted, it was against the Detroit Lions, who have one of the worst receiving units in the NFL, but Lenoir displayed competency.
For a team which is in pretty dire straits at corner following Verrett’s injury, this was substantial. If Lenoir can be capable and the 49ers defensive line remains dominant, they’ll be able to feel a little less unease about their corner situation.
When you’re supposed to be a guy who plugs gaps and you just don’t do that, well, that’s not ideal. Much of the role of any defensive lineman, but especially an interior defensive lineman, is to maintain gap integrity. In Kerr’s case, often in a one-technique role, that’s about taking on double teams, and maintaining his presence in the A gap. If he doesn’t, a lot of what happened in the first half takes place. The Lions ran a handful of trap and inside zone plays where center Frank Ragnow or one of Detroit’s two guards in Jonah Jackson or Halapoulivaati Vaitai manhandled Kerr and got him out of the picture.
That cleared the way for second-level blockers to take easy one-on-ones with 49ers linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, who had the likes of Penei Sewell and T.J. Hockenson on them too quickly to try and cut back towards the ball. Much of the credit should go to the Lions’ Anthony Lynn for the play design and well-executed blocking, but Kerr was getting bullied off his mark fairly consistently. To his credit, he had one fantastic play on in the second quarter where he blew up an outside zone run, beating Ragnow badly. His early pass rushing was solid, too, but on the whole, his run defense was disappointing, and that’s his main responsibility as an early-down defensive tackle.
Yikes. It seemed initially like Aiyuk barely played at all, but he took 26 snaps (47 percent) on Sunday, and had a punt return. Now, Kyle Shanahan said he was trying to ease Aiyuk back following a hamstring injury that sidelined him the week before last, and that he did intend to get him on the field more, and give him more punt opportunities.
But that didn’t happen, and Aiyuk was targeted just once. His blocking was also pretty poor, which, if you know Shanahan, you know that’s a pretty massive point of emphasis. The first thing the Shanahans tell their receivers is that they must commit to blocking in the run game. Aiyuk didn’t do that, and his lack of involvement, if only for the first week, is a definite concern.
Shanahan indicated that it wasn’t just the hamstring injury that kept Aiyuk effectively splitting snaps with Trent Sherfield; Sherfield seemed to have outplayed him in training camp, and clearly commits more as a blocker. This may not be a one-week thing.
Sermon will get his chances, but being a healthy scratch in Week 1 indicates that his fit in this offense may not exactly be hand-in-glove. Sermon is a far different style of runner than Mostert or Mitchell, and it’s not just that he’s a larger back.
His approach is more deliberate and patient, which again, is not what the Shanahan scheme demands of its backs. Now, with Mostert out, Sermon should get opportunities especially on pass plays; his size should be of value in pass protection, where JaMycal Hasty has solid instincts, but is limited by his frame. It’s not worth panicking about Sermon yet, but you would have expected him to at least been active for gameday.