Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
For the first time since 1998, the San Francisco 49ers have started a campaign with a 3-0 record. They outlasted the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday by the final score of 24-20. It wasn’t pretty, but ugly wins count just as much as blowouts when the dust finally settles. As the team moves into their early bye, where does everybody’s stock sit?
Stock Up: Jimmy Garoppolo Back to Form
It is very easy to take a look at the box score and assume that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a lackluster game, with his 272 yards passing, one touchdown and a pair of interceptions paling in comparison to, say, Patrick Mahomes’ usual stat line. However, anyone watching the game knows that this was Garoppolo’s best performance since 2017. He was able to stand tough in the pocket against a ferocious Steelers pass rush to deliver strikes all over the field. His knee, and by extension his confidence, appear to be back at 100 percent. Garoppolo slithered his way out of multiple sacks to keep the offense from playing behind the sticks. If he continues to operate at this level, the offense could really be on to something this season.
Stock Down: Turnover Differential
While the 49ers were able to match their 2018 takeaway total after a K’Waun Williams interception and Arik Armstead forced fumble, they also coughed the ball up five times. Garoppolo’s two interceptions bounced off the hands of running back Matt Breida and wide receiver Dante Pettis and they lost fumbles from RB Raheem Mostert, on a botched snap exchange, and a miscommunication between Garoppolo and WR Richie James Jr. on a jet sweep. The offense was marching up and down the field all game long with very little resistance but red zone turnovers almost cost them the game. Hopefully they spend the bye week duct taping the football to their hands to prevent these mistakes moving forward.
Stock Up: Nick Bosa, Pressure Machine
Steelers QB Mason Rudolph dropped back to pass the ball 27 times and was pressured on 22 of those attempts. Leading the charge for the 49ers’ defensive line was rookie defensive end Nick Bosa. His seven pressures kept Rudolph from being able to run through his progressions. The results were Rudolph only completed two passes longer than one yard down the field. The next step for Bosa is to translate these pressures into sacks. Once he does that, he will be posting monster numbers, week in and week out.
Stock Down: Cornerback Depth
Third-year cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has been a bright spot in the secondary with stellar play through the first three weeks of the season. Unfortunately, he left Sunday’s game with a low ankle sprain that will cost him at least a month. In his stead, free agent addition CB Jason Verrett saw his first regular season action since September 11, 2017. He was promptly torched by WR Dionte Johnson on a 39-yard touchdown strike. With Witherspoon set to miss extended time, the 49ers front office may be forced to look around the league to add to the CB depth chart.
Stock Up: Dante Pettis’ Confidence
Dante Pettis has had a tumultuous beginning to his sophomore campaign. After being called out in training camp by head coach Kyle Shanahan, he suffered an apparent groin injury that limited him to just two snaps in the season opener. Pettis followed that up by tying Marquise Goodwin for most snaps among the WR corps against the Bengals but did not see any passes come his way. This past Sunday, he took a big step towards redeeming himself by hauling in the game-winning touchdown pass from Garoppolo in the final minutes. Pettis made a good play to come back to the ball and had the focus to immediately cross into the end zone. His celebratory spike seemed to let out all of the frustration from the offseason. A fully confident Dante Pettis makes this offense all the more potent and will be much more difficult to game plan against.
Stock Up: A Season Defining Play?
In Week 3 of the 2011 season, DE Justin Smith tracked down Philadelphia Eagles’ WR Jeremy Maclin to punch the ball out, causing a fumble that would ultimately seal the victory for the Jim Harbaugh-coached squad. That play proved to be the catalyst that propelled an underperforming 49ers team into a nearly unstoppable force the rest of the season. On Sunday, defensive lineman Arik Armstead did much of the same when he stripped RB James Conner, setting up the aforementioned game-winning touchdown to Pettis. In years past, Kyle Shanahan’s teams would have found a way to lose a game just like this but the team showed an immense amount of grit and determination to grind out a victory. If this season continues to be fruitful for the 49ers, it won’t be difficult to look back on Armstead’s play as the one that signaled the 49ers’ arrival.
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