That was not the opening week of 2018 that 49ers fans all across the planet were looking for. This was a battle between Coach Kyle Shanahan’s two most famous, and most wealthy quarterback disciples, Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo. Jimmy “Geezus” did not put up the stats or the throws that they needed in this game, and outside of the one series in the second quarter when Alfred Morris fumbled the ball, twice, inside the five yard line, the offense had little to no ground game. Even with the loss, there were some very bright spots for a team who is coming off of three seasons in a row where they missed the playoffs.
Let’s look at those bright spots before we come back to the disappointments:
“DPOY” himself came out and delivered, giving the 49ers defense 2.5 sacks by himself and being an overwhelming pressure with a stat line of 7 combined tackles (3 solo, 4 assisted), 2.5 sacks, and 3 tackles for losses. He also spent time in the coverage, nearly getting a pass breakup a play or two before Kyle Rudolph’s touchdown catch. His sack at the end of the first half kept the Vikings from getting a last-minute score, and was one of the bigger plays in the game to keep the 49ers in the contest. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be thinking that Buckner is going to be a winner for the next 17 weeks.
In his first NFL game Warner led his team with 12 combined tackles (11 solo, 1 assisted) 1 TFL, 1 FF, and 1 PBU. His tackle of Treadwell the play before Buckner’s second sack was huge. Treadwell had plenty of room to make a big play there, but Warner wrapped him up and kept him from advancing anywhere. Watching Warner play on Sunday had many 49ers fan salivating to see him next to Reuben Foster come Week 3. Having those two in the linebacking core and Buckner up front has the 49ers only looking for their Aldon Smith replacement to bring them back to the days of the four horseman defense of Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. Warner flashed Pro Bowl ability against a very strong Vikings offense, and should see his share of winning over his career.
Another rookie, another solid performance. His touchdown catch was amazing. His one punt return was underrated in its importance as well as in the confidence he showed. Most punt returners would have fair-caught that ball, but Pettis showed why Shanahan and John Lynch traded up to draft him in the second round. His almost touchdown catch would have been on Sports Center’s Top Ten plays if he would have come down with it. His only mistake came on the Xavier Rhodes interception. Although he beat him off the line, his slower release might have messed up the rhythm Jimmy Garoppolo might have been looking for there, but if you go back and watch Pettis, he created more separation and beat his opponent off the line more than any other 49ers receiver. If he keeps putting on performances like this and Pierre Garcon continue to drop passes that he shouldn’t be dropping, Pettis could even see himself in the starting lineup sooner than later. Pettis ended the game with just two catches for 61 yards off of five targets, and the 49ers lone touchdown, but he was an absolute game changer and showed every one of his doubters why they are wrong.
Although his wide-open dropped pass would have at least led to three points, if not him jogging into the end zone for six, he was the main focus of the passing offense, targeted nine times throughout the game. Back-to-back catches for first downs ignited the 49ers stalled offense in the second quarter, and the fans could start to see why Kittle has been quietly called a “baby Gronk” over the last thirteen months. Kittle ended up with five catches for 90 yards, nearly eclipsing that 100 yard mark. Kittle will continue to be a focus of the offense, and could even receive a Pro Bowl nod in the near future.
Honorable Mentions: Richard Sherman (only 1 catch against him all game), Weston Richburg (great downfield blocking when the opportunity arose). Robert Saleh and the defensive line (lots of pressure up the middle, good game plan execution).
49ers Running Back Group
Combined, Morris and Matt Breida rushed the ball 23 times for 84 yards. Not the solid balanced attack that Shanahan was looking for. Kyle Juszczyk had one huge catch down the sideline, but was not used the rest of the game besides for blocking. Alfred Morris fumbled twice in the red zone, on back to back plays, and Breida was mostly invisible in his snaps with the ball. His speed was not too much for the Vikings’ defense to handle, and the running backs continued to be barely involved in the passing game (Breida, 1 catch for 5 yards). On Garropolo’s pick six, Morris looked to completely miss his blocking assignment, going to the left side of the line instead of the obvious right side overload (this was also after they lost Mike Person and Joshua Garnett at right guard, another reason this missed blocking assignment is unreal). Morris seemed to run the ball harder, but Breida had the better stat line (11 carries for 46 yards to Morris’ 12 carries for 38 yards). A lot of this had to do with the weak offensive line performance (mentioned next), but the backs were definitely not a thunder and lightning duo as some had hyped them to be.
The Offensive Line
Let us start out by saying Staley and Richburg looked the part, but the rest of their cohorts did not look like they deserved to start in the NFL. Mike McGlinchey did not have an overly outstanding game, Mike Person and Joshua Garnett went down with injuries, which led to the recently-activated Garry Gilliam (also known as a turnstile booth) entering the game at right tackle and pushing McGlinchey inside to right guard, a position he didn’t even play in college. The outcome was a 50% pressure rate (15% higher than the NFL’s average on Sunday) and Garoppolo throwing nearly every pass off of his back foot and over outreached hands. If the offensive line can’t jell, this season will not be a pretty one for Garoppolo or that model face of his.
I know, we don’t call out the savior, but Garoppolo was not his usual accurate self. Finishing with a line of 15/33 for 261 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions (one was a pick-six) is probably about as bad as we’ll see for Garoppolo this season. The Vikings boast the returning number-one defense in the NFL and they flexed those muscles all over Garoppolo the whole game. Even with his first loss and worst game of his professional career, Garoppolo continued to show his leadership and why the 49ers made him the highest paid quarterback (albeit briefly) in the NFL. After the game, he took the pressure off of his teammates and said every interception is the quarterback’s fault. During the game he didn’t quit and kept slinging the ball down field. His TD pass to Pettis was, dare we say epic, throwing the ball while rolling to his left with pressure all around him. His timing was off, but we don’t know if that was the receivers or him (probably a combination of both). Don’t expect to see Garoppolo’s name on this side of these articles for the rest of the season.
The commentators routinely called Goodwin the team’s second best offensive player (behind Garoppolo) and the offense definitely lost a huge weapon with Goodwin out. If you follow Goodwin on social media (you should), you know that he is one of the great examples of who a professional athlete should be. Just looking at how far he has come in the last 14 months, from overpaid FA addition to a focal point of the offense, exacerbates the loss of Goodwin. He will be back making big plays, but this is a loss for him and the team.
Dishonorable Mentions: Pierre Garcon (dropped TD pass, little separation), Brock Coyle (poor tackling and no speed), Jimmie Ward (only five snaps played and gave up big third down reception).
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