The offense has work to do while the defensive line and the safeties excelled
The 49ers pulled out an ugly 17-11 victory over the Eagles on Sunday. While there were plenty of ways the team could have performed better, the team is heading into Week 3 as one of just seven remaining undefeated teams. Before moving forward, though, how did each position group fair in Philadelphia on Sunday?
With Trey Lance on the sideline for the entirety of the game, this grade fully reflects Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance. While Jimmy G completed 22-of-30 pass attempts and did not turn the ball over, the veteran quarterback hardly pushed the ball down the field (just 3.6 average air yards per attempt) and amassed only 189 passing yards.
Garoppolo is far more mobile than he looked at any point in 2020, and that came in handy on several plays, particularly late. However, it’s hard to come away from Sunday impressed with his play, either.
Running backs: C-
It was always going to be a challenge for the 49ers to find much success running up the middle with Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox on the Eagles’ interior defensive line. Nevertheless, head coach Kyle Shanahan went back to interior runs throughout the game, despite the 49ers O-line struggling to get any push.
Elijah Mitchell made the most of limited space but was unable to break off any large runs. JaMycal Hasty stepped up for some bulk gains on his limited snaps, and Trey Sermon earned a first down on his first regular-season carry. The 49ers’ playcalling and matchups didn’t do this group a lot of favors, but they weren’t able to exceed their circumstances much either.
Tight End: B-
Kittle hasn’t taken over a game yet in 2021, but he always remains an impact blocker even when he’s not a significant receiving threat. For example, he hauled in all four of his targets but accrued just 17 receiving yards. Without a well-regarded backup tight end, it’s worth wondering if Shanahan is trying to limit Kittle’s hits early in the season.
Wide receivers: B-
Deebo Samuel was exceptional for the second consecutive week and now leads the NFL in receiving yards. However, Trent Sherfield and Brandon Aiyuk combined for two receptions and 15 receiving yards. Aiyuk’s lone reception was a great catch on a big third down, but the 49ers receivers besides Samuel needed to do more and failed to deliver.
One positive from lower on the depth chart is that 2020 seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings caught a pair of passes for 17 yards and a touchdown, which could be the first step towards solidifying the slot receiver role.
Offensive Line: C+
The line was at the point of attack on run games throughout the game but faired far better when the 49ers passed. Garoppolo was not sacked once in the entire game and had very clean pockets on several big throws.
Defensive Line: A-
The 49ers vaunted defensive line got off to a slow start and enabled the Eagles to get some early momentum. Eventually, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford began consistently pressuring Hurts while D.J. Jones consistently stuffed the Eagles on inside runs. Ford did commit one offsides penalty and lost contain on a big run by Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, but that comes with his aggressiveness off the edge.
Without Dre Greenlaw, the 49ers were down a great coverage linebacker, but Azeez Al-Shaair stepped up well in his absence. Fred Warner led the team with five tackles but made some uncharacteristic mistakes. Warner still played well, but it’s a credit to how good of a player he is that there’s reason to expect even more from him going forward.
Without Jason Verrett or Emmanuel Moseley, plenty of 49ers fans have undoubtedly been flashing back to last year’s 43-17 loss to the Dolphins. However, while they had reason to be concerned, Hurts’ limited arm and the Niners pass rush prevented Philadelphia from taking too much advantage of the Niners’ weakness. Rookie Deommodore Lenoir allowed a huge 91-yard reception to Quez Watkins and nearly surrendered a big touchdown to Jalen Reagor but was bailed out by an illegal touching penalty. Veteran Josh Norman had some early struggles of his own, committing some big pass interference penalties. However, Lenoir and Norman didn’t surrender any more big plays once the pass rush turned up the heat.
Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt had their hands full, helping Lenoir and Norman in coverage while trying to limit a dynamic rushing attack. They both rose to the occasion. Both safeties recorded several tackles and made some great plays in coverage. They may have the worst hands in the NFL, but Ward and Tartt are exceptional at everything else on the field.
Special Teams: A+
After some struggles in the preseason and in Week 1, the 49ers’ special teams were fantastic. Recent addition Trenton Cannon made a big tackle on a kickoff return inside the Eagles’ 20. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky had an All-Pro caliber day, pinning the Eagles deep in their territory throughout the game. Robbie Gould made all of his field-goal attempts. Javon Kinlaw blocked a field goal. Besides a big return or forced fumble, the Niners’ special teams did everything they were asked, and more, on Sunday.