The 49ers defense dominated early, but a stagnant offense and multiple mistakes on special teams proved too much to overcome in 28-21 loss.
49ers’While the 28-21 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday came with several new developments. Unfortunately, the story of the game was quite similar to San Francisco’s Week 3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Unable to take advantage of a fantastic early performance by the defense, the Niners were unable to build a two-score lead and ultimately made far too many mistakes against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Here’s a deeper look at each position group’s performance:
Jimmy Garoppolo led a touchdown drive to open the game, going six-for-six as they marched down the field. Even in that success, though, Garoppolo didn’t make any big throws. He didn’t have to. The offense was firing on all cylinders.
Things quickly devolved from there.
Garoppolo was inaccurate all day, resulting in some dangerous passes that led to an interception. Those mistakes aren’t abnormal for Jimmy G, but the veteran quarterback suffered a calf injury on the first drive that seemed to worsen as the half wore on. By the start of the second half, Trey Lance took over.
Lance was bad. Head coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledged that the game plan wasn’t built for the rookie. If Garoppolo is out for an extended period, Lance should be in a better position to succeed going forward. Instead, he led a bit of a late-game comeback. The first-round pick was incredibly inaccurate on several throws around the field.
Lance flashed his running ability, racking up 41 rushing yards, and was under pressure quite a bit. However, he also was holding onto the ball longer in the pocket than probably was best. It was a difficult circumstance for the rookie, and his struggles were understandable, but he nonetheless left many opportunities on the field.
Running backs: B
49ers rookie running back Trey Sermon got a longer leash from Shanahan this week and took advantage of some big holes. He racked up 89 rushing yards on 19 carries without ever putting the ball on the ground. He also was a very effective pass blocker.
Still, Sermon could not deliver a game-changing play, only reaching 15 yards on his longest carry. That’s the reality of life without Raheem Mostert’s blazing speed for the 49ers. Barring Sermon finding another gear, the Niners will need more big plays from their passing offense.
Tight ends: B-
A deep shot to Kittle in the first half that Garoppolo underthrew exposed him to another nasty hit. While Kittle stayed in the game, he was still unable to record a signature performance. The Niners’ tight end should be the biggest beneficiary from Deebo Samuel emerging as an elite threat, but he got a lot of attention on Sunday. Backup Ross Dwelley hauled in an impressive grab of his own on Garoppolo’s lone touchdown but was otherwise quiet.
Wide Receivers: B+
Deebo Samuel is putting himself in conversation amongst the NFL’s best receivers. He hauled in 8 receptions for 156 receiving yards and two touchdowns, pushing himself atop the league leaderboard in several offensive categories. However, despite Samuel’s emergence alongside Kittle, none of the other 49ers’ receivers have emerged as a strong third option.
Brandon Aiyuk had another quiet performance, hauling in one 15-yard reception, and was replaced late by Trent Sherfield. Given the early-season questions around Aiyuk’s playing time, there are reasons to wonder about that substitution. However, Sherfield’s excellent preseason was highlighted by several big throws from Lance. The switch might have been a late-game attempt by Shanahan to give his rookie quarterback a familiar big-play target.
Offensive line: B
The offensive line did Sermon’s job far easier this week than last, controlling the line of scrimmage early. Seattle was able to generate a fairly consistent pass rush, but the Niners’ line didn’t make any huge gaffes like they did last week against Green Bay. Furthermore, Lance was holding the ball for a long time in the second half.
Defensive line: A-
Had the offense done its job, the defensive line would be the heroes of yesterday’s game. Russell Wilson was under constant pressure in the first half and was unable to lead any long drives. Edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford gave Seattle’s outside blockers fits, and in his first game off the injured reserve, Maurice Hurst was good on the inside against the run.
The pass rush faded as the game went on, but they gave the 49ers an opportunity to jump out to a huge early lead. Of course, the offense and special teams’ failures were ultimately too much to overcome. Ford committed a horrible offsides penalty in the fourth quarter, but the veteran edge rusher also racked up two sacks. As frustrating as it is, it’s also a give-and-take the 49ers are happy to make.
In the first quarter, Fred Warner was a monster, but the inside linebacker was uncharacteristically mediocre in the rest of the game. The other linebackers (Marcell Harris and Azeez Al-Shaair) made some plays in the run game, but both got burned in coverage, allowing four receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown, per PFF. Al-Shaair continues to flash above-average potential, particularly in the run, but once again struggled in coverage.
Dre Kirkpatrick’s career has been defined by penalties, and yesterday was no different. He was actually solid in coverage against Tyler Lockett, but he grabbed him on one play downfield despite being in a good position. Emmanuel Moseley had an even harder assignment, primarily against D.K. Metcalf, but he limited the damage, allowing four catches for 58 receiving yards on nine targets.
Tartt and Ward are great players, but with significant assignments in pass coverage and terrible hands, they aren’t going to generate a lot of turnovers. Ward and Tartt have both failed to force more than two combined interceptions and fumbles in a season. They’re good players who are playing a significant role in helping a limited cornerback group, but they do limit the defense’s ability to generate turnovers.
Special teams: F
After nearly flawless performances in their past two games, the 49ers’ special teams arguably cost the Niners 11 points. Circumstances played a significant role in the unit’s shortcomings, with placekicker Robbie Gould suffering a groin injury pregame. Forced into field-goal duties, punter Mitch Wishnowsky missed an extra point and a 41-yard field goal. Yet, even those misses weren’t the most costly special team’s mistakes.
A week after making a big-time kickoff return, running back Trenton Cannon made a pair of costly errors. First, he fumbled one return inside the Niners’ red zone that immediately led to a Seahawks touchdown. Then he misread a kick that forced Lance to start a drive deep in the Niners’ territory. Cannon was benched for the 49ers’ final return of the game, and we’ll see if he gets another shot at returning kicks going forward.