Plus, three other things we learned from Sunday
The 49ers had each of their running backs leave the game at some point today. Here’s a look at the injuries from the Eagles game:
RB Elijah Mitchell (shoulder)
RB Trey Sermon (head)
RB JaMycal Hasty (ankle)
DT Kevin Givens (ankle)
FB Kyle Juszczyk (cramps)
WR Deebo Samuel (cramps)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan said he’s hoping Mitchell’s injury is just a stinger. Mitchell returned to the game. Shanahan indicated that Mitchell would receive more tests tomorrow.
Sermon is dealing with a concussion. He will go into protocol this week. Kyle Shanahan is unsure of the severity of JaMycal Hasty’s ankle injury at the moment.
The running game has been inconsistent through two games
Outside of Mitchell’s 38-yard touchdown against the Lions, the 49ers averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Life wasn’t easy for Mitchell and the running game today as the 49ers averaged 3.1 yards per carry on 38 attempts with only one explosive run from JaMycal Hasty.
Jimmy Garoppolo ran for a few key first downs, but San Francisco’s success rate on the ground was only 36%. Mitchell’s was 22% on 17 carries.
Give credit to the Eagles defensive line, but we saw the passing game stall as the 49ers ground game didn’t get ahead of the chains as we’re used to seeing. Let’s see if we can chalk this up to early-season struggles or if the running game will be an issue moving forward.
The defense continues to be lights out
San Francisco forced the Eagles to drive on them without giving up too many big plays, and that strategy worked. San Francisco forced the Eagles to drive on them without giving up too many big plays, and that strategy worked.
The Eagles converted a few first downs in the first quarter. After that, they finished 5-12 for the game. Javon Kinlaw’s blocked kick was huge, and not allowing any points after a 91-yard pass was even bigger.
What we saw was a team fight through adversity and came out on top. Nick Bosa had two sacks, but it wasn’t just him. Arik Armstead was everywhere, especially early, and Arden Key had a big QB hit as well as a batted pass. Kinlaw’s run defense made a difference, but how about the secondary.
Deommodore Lenoir was on the wrong end of that 91-yard pass. To me, it seemed as though he wasn’t expecting a shot play from the Eagles. However, he was fantastic outside of that play with three pass breakups and superb coverage.
Add Jaquiski Tartt’s pass breakup (and him running down Quez Watkins, which saved a TD) and Jimmie Ward’s, and the 49ers exceeded expectations. Even Josh Norman, who was flagged twice, didn’t have his name called after the first quarter. That’s a good thing.
Shanahan reverts to the “training wheels” offense
Some of the titles from articles on Sunday and Monday would lead you to believe that Jimmy Garoppolo was a vital component of the 49ers’ victory. Perhaps it’s because I expected more from him, but I did not have the same feeling watching the game.
Jimmy threw a dime to Deebo Samuel toward the end of the first half, which led to a 40-yard gain and putting points on the board and a few other key moments when he used his legs.
Take a look at Garoppolo’s passing chart, per Next Gen Stats:
Those misses outside of the hash marks beyond ten yards all came early in the game.
After Garoppolo airmailed those throws, we saw a different version of the offense. Instead of aggressively attacking the Eagles in that 10-15 yard window where they were susceptible, throws were bogged down to short and over the middle.
Per Next Gen Stats, Garoppolo’s average intended air yards of 3.6 were the lowest in the NFL during Week 2 by a full yard (funny enough, Mac Jones was second to last). In addition, his longest completed air distance throw was third-worst to two quarterbacks who came off the bench Sunday. This led to an expected completion percentage of -5.3, which, you guessed it, was also at the bottom of the league.
I point all of this out to show you that it’s challenging to move the ball when you do not generate explosive plays in this league. Thankfully, Deebo Samuel is a nightmare to tackle.
But we’ll need to see the version of Garoppolo that we saw in the two-minute drill against the next three opponents if the team is going to win, not the one we saw in the first half that was jittery in the pocket and airmailing throws. That play won’t cut it against playoff teams.
For those of you thinking this was an offensive line issue, Garoppolo had the same time to throw as Washington’s Taylor Heinicke and Joe Burrow, both of whom more than doubled Garoppolo’s average intended air yards at 7.7 and 8.4, respectively.
It was good coaching from Kyle Shanahan.
Deebo Samuel’s bully ball style of play is a perfect reflection of the 49ers
When you give Deebo the ball, good things happen. When you give Deebo the ball, it wears on defenders. The more Deebo touches the rock, the less likely you want to tackle him.
Through two weeks, Samuel leads the NFL in receiving with 282 yards. Deebo averaged three yards of separation on all of his targets against the Eagles to give you an idea of how open he is. We know he’s tough after the catch, but Samuel exceeded his projected yards by gaining 2.4 yards more than expected.
It feels like hyperbole to say this, but I’m not sure there’s another player in the NFL, at least at wide receiver, who runs as hard as Samuel does. He gets to top speed in a matter of steps and generates that speed to power.
Samuel becoming the team’s top target is excellent for the long term. We know what George Kittle can do, and we also know that Brandon Aiyuk will come around eventually. Knowing that Garoppolo trusts Samuel is critical. Deebo’s bully ball persona is how this team wants to play, and that’s why they’re leaning on him early in the season.