Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Barnburner, shootout, madness. Call Sunday’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints anything but boring. The 49ers survived the last leg of their gauntlet with a 48-46 victory in the bayou and return back to the West Coast 11-2. How does the stock report look this week?
Stock Up: Jimmy G’s Signature Game
Coming into the game, almost every media outlet pegged quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as the weak link among the 49ers roster. Their success hadn’t come because of him but rather in spite of his limitations. Garoppolo did his best to flip that line of thought completely on its head. Matching Saints quarterback, and future first-ballot Hall of Famer, Drew Brees blow for blow, Garoppolo never missed a beat in the Superdome. He amassed 349 passing yards and four touchdowns while hitting key throws on money downs. Garoppolo was also able to show his toughness by scrambling for first downs and shaking off would be sackers to extend plays. If this is the Jimmy Garoppolo that Kyle Shanahan is going to get the rest of the season, the 49ers are very serious Super Bowl contenders.
Stock Down: “Kyle Shanahan Can’t Win the Big Game” Takes
Dating back to Super Bowl LI, many people have doubted Kyle Shanahan’s ability to call plays in critical moments. That same narrative was playing out this year with losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens both coming down to what was deemed as questionable playcalls. Shanahan seems to have learned from those mistakes as he dialed up an incredible game plan from the beginning of the game to take down the Saints. He reached all the way into the bottom of his bag of tricks to come up with a touchdown pass from wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and a fullback option run by Kyle Juszczyk on a key third down. “Disrespectful Kyle” was on full display and it was beautiful to watch. Both he and his quarterback got the signature wins they were looking for.
Stock Up: Raheem Mostert and the Hot Hand
Kyle Shanahan has a tendency to go with the hot hand at running back and no hand is hotter than Raheem Mostert’s right now. For the second straight week, Mostert’s elite speed was on full display as he tallied 109 yards from scrimmage with a pair of touchdowns on just 12 touches. He now leads the 49ers with 608 yards on the season and has carved out a niche in Shanahan’s offense. Mostert was a player originally seen as a special teams ace but has truly come into his own as the most consistently healthy running back. Whether his hand remains hot is yet to be seen.
Stock Down: 2017 Tackling Resurfaces
On the first drive of the game, Brees found tight end Jared Cook for a long touchdown pass to give New Orleans the early lead. That sentence alone doesn’t sound out of place. It is Drew Brees and it is the Saints. Scoring first seems almost natural, even against the 49ers top-tier defense. What was out of place was safety Marcell Harris’ lackluster attempt to tackle Cook. He attempted a harmless shoulder tackle at his knees that saw Cook barely register the blow on his way to the endzone. This tackling seemed to be contagious as many 49ers players allowed massive yards after contact on both run and pass plays. This is something that will need to be cleaned up before the playoffs begin.
Stock Up: Jimmie Ward’s Last Line of Defense
One player who did not have an issue tackling on Sunday was veteran safety Jimmie Ward. On multiple occasions, he was the last player standing between the ball carrier and the end zone and on each play, Ward rose to the challenge. This was the first week of the season where Ward has played without fellow starting safety Jaquiski Tartt, who missed the game with a rib injury. Ward’s plate was plenty full and he continued to put together a career year as the centerfielder in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense.
Stock Down: Injuries Continue to Pile Up
It wouldn’t be a 49ers season unless there were more injuries than you can count. The one that will hurt the most is center Weston Richburg, who got his leg tangled and rolled up, tearing his patella tendon. Richburg had been enjoying a resurgent year after playing most of 2018 with a litany of ailments that kept him from performing at his best. Cornerback Richard Sherman and defensive end Dee Ford both suffered hamstring injuries that will cost them at least a couple weeks. General manager John Lynch has done a good job to build depth on the roster and it is going to be put to the test down the stretch. Can the reserves step up and keep the momentum going?
Stock Up: George Kittle Can Actually Block (And Do Other Things, Too)
Earlier this week, a certain radio host who shall remain nameless said that 49ers tight end was “not much of a blocker.” Well, on Sunday, George Kittle’s blocks proved to be the difference on a multitude of run plays where he was able to spring ball carriers to massive gains. Not to let his blocking ability do all the talking, Kittle also added 6 catches, 67 yards, a touchdown and the biggest fourth down conversion of the season. Kittle caught a quick out and then proceeded to run through three Saints defenders and a facemask to gain 39 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.
Stock Up: Robbie Gould Earning His Contract
I haven’t been shy about giving kicker Robbie Gould and the kicking unit a hard time in this series. That said, nothing but positive vibes this week. Gould nailed all six of his extra points and a pair of field goals, including the game winner. Many had started to question whether or not he was worth the contract he was awarded this offseason and it’s safe to say that as long as Gould continues to trend in this direction, the 49ers will be happy to pay the man his money.
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