The 49ers offseason hype train came to a screeching halt on Sunday morning. Traveling to Minnesota, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered his first career loss at the hands of one of the NFC’s Super Bowl favorites. Some key factors contributed to the 24-16 loss for Kyle Shanahan and the rest of the team.
Good Defense, Poor Tackling
Linebacker Reuben Foster served the first of his two-game suspension on Sunday and the defense missed his presence more than most people thought they would. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook had a bigger day than he should have due to the 49ers defense being out of position and missing multiple arm tackles. Quarterback Kirk Cousins also scrambled for multiple first downs and it is hard to feel as if Foster would have allowed those same plays to happen.
Despite poor tackling, the defense routinely kept the team in the game. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner nearly matched his sack total from the entirety of last season in this one game. His 2.5 sacks helped force punts and get the ball back to Jimmy Garoppolo. Rookie linebacker Fred Warner flashed serious tackling and pass coverage skills. He even punched the ball out from Dalvin Cook, creating the first takeaway of the game. The secondary also found their groove by the end of the game by not allowing a single completion on Kirk Cousins’s last eight throws.
Injuries, Injuries and More Injuries
While injuries are a given over the course of any game, multiple 49ers starters went down with a variety of ailing body parts. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin bruised his thigh after only one target. He returned to the game later but was not able to make any impact on the game. Right guards Mike Person and Joshua Garnett both went down with a foot strain and dislocated toe, respectively. Neither was able to return forcing the OL to shuffle starting rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey to the guard spot while swing tackle Gary Gilliam took up the bookend position. Linebacker Brock Coyle, who earned a spot start due to Foster’s suspension, suffered a scary looking concussion and was taken out of the game and straight into the league’s concussion protocol.
Jimmy G’s Rough Day
For Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start after signing his $137M offseason extension, he was gifted a matchup with last season’s top defensive squad. Garoppolo finished 15-for-33 for 261 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Pressured on exactly half of his dropbacks, Garoppolo struggled with his accuracy. On top of missing some key throws, he was not helped by his receivers and tight ends. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne ran the wrong route, resulting in a pick-six, tight end George Kittle had a drop on a wide-open pass the play before Bourne’s incorrect route and WR Pierre Garcon dropped a pass in the end zone on a third down.
Not all was negative for Garoppolo and the offense, however. Channeling his inner Favre, Garoppolo spun away from pressure and threw a deep ball across his body to rookie WR Dante Pettis, who made a fantastic toe-dragging catch for a touchdown. Garoppolo also hit fullback Kyle Juszczyk down the right sideline for a large gain on the first offensive play after the pick-six. Unfortunately, Vikings HC Mike Zimmer attacked the right side of the OL after injuries forced the shuffle and kept the pressure dialed up all game.
The 49ers did their best to beat themselves for most of the game. Four turnovers, costly penalties and missed assignments huge at different points seemingly swinging momentum in the complete opposite direction. Multiple times, the offense would have a penalty or a negative play on first down, forcing them to play from behind the sticks against a very talented defense. One of the most infuriating penalties came with just over 3:00 left in the game. Facing a hfourth-and-1, the Vikings lined up with the sole purpose of drawing the 49ers DL offside and second-year defensive end Solomon Thomas obliged. The Vikings were able to drain the clock and the 49ers’ timeouts after that.
Red Zone Struggles
Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers offense into the red zone on four separate occasions. However, they managed only a single touchdown and two field goals. Down 10-3 just before halftime, the 49ers had the ball on the Vikings 2-yard line before running back Alfred Morris lost a fumble. The playcalling felt stale and unimaginative, a pair of adjectives not normally associated with a Kyle Shanahan offense. The 49ers struggled with scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season as well and will need to improve on this moving forward if they want to compete for the playoffs.
Kirk Drops Dimes
Kirk Cousins signed the first fully-guaranteed contract for a quarterback this offseason and was eager to prove he was worth the money. In the second quarter, Cousins found WR Stefon Diggs for a 22-yard touchdown after a beautiful pass despite tight coverage from cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. In the third quarter, Cousins was able to finally hook up with TE Kyle Rudolph on an 11-yard touchdown strike. The 49ers pass rush was in Cousins’s face and safety Jaquiski Tartt was blanketed over Rudolph, but the pass was perfectly placed. Cousins may not have had a career day but threw two of his best passes when they mattered most.
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