It felt like the 49ers’ defensive line was teeing off on the Chargers quarterbacks all night.
Based on the first defensive drive for the 49ers, you would have thought the team would have ended with double-digit sacks. But instead, Arik Armstead sacked Easton Stick on a second down, and the defense got off the field after a Demmodore Lenior pass breakup.
Before the game, general manager John Lynch said on the local broadcast that the plan at quarterback was for Jimmy Garoppolo to get the first series, with Trey Lance playing the next two and Garoppolo coming back in after that.
The offense picked up the first down after Brandon Aiyuk drew a defensive holding. Jimmy G found Charlier Woerner on his next attempt to convert another first down. Garoppolo, on the next play, did everything I’ve been begging him to: run.
One of Garoppolo’s best and most underused assets is his legs. He can move much better than NFL defenses give him credit. On this run, Garoppolo climbed the pocket, evaded pressure, and tucked the ball for a gain of ten yards.
Then, what has happened during practice happened in a game. Garoppolo’s pass sailed on him — he had a couple do the same during this drive — and it went off Brandon Aiyuk’s fingertips for an interception.
The pass was high. Nobody will argue that point. However, the replay showed that the catch was even more difficult than initially thought.
INT. Long drive stalls with many conversions. pic.twitter.com/PLCCjrcTvW
— Jason Aponte (@JasonAponte2103) August 22, 2021
Aiyuk is capable of getting into that top-10-15 range with his skill set. However, drops have been an issue during camp. That wasn’t an easy catch, but if he wants to be viewed among the league’s best, then those are the difficult grabs he must make.
The root of the problem remains, as we shouldn’t have to be asking who was at fault, to begin with. But, unfortunately, this question comes up way too much. That turnover took away what was a promising drive for the offense.
The 49ers’ defense finished the second drive how they finished the first: with a sack. But, this time, it was by way of a hustle play from Samson Ebukam. The defensive line lived in the Chargers‘ backfield through two drives.
Here’s how Lance’s first drive went:
- Zone-read handoff to JaMycal Hasty – 5-yard gain
- Completion over the middle to Deebo Samuel – 9 yards
- Lance rolls right, throws the ball away – Incomplete
- Handoff to Hasty – two-yard gain
- Third-down incompletion over the middle to Samuel – Incomplete
Lance threw it high and behind Deebo, making the degree of difficulty on the catch high. Lance has struggled during camp with passes sailing on him.
The 49ers’ defense finished the third drive the same way they did the previous two. The only difference was the Niners added two points after Jordan Willis beat the right tackle cleanly for a sack in the end zone to give San Francisco a 2-0 lead.
Lance threw an interception on the next drive after the ball deflected off Sanu’s hands. It looked as though Sanu should have kept running through the ball for at least another step, and he would have had a better chance to catch the pass.
That can be true while Lance understanding that he doesn’t have to throw 100 miles per hour on every throw. Lance needs to learn the importance of touch. I’d argue that was the biggest issue in the play.
With a short field, the Chargers took advantage of a couple of 49er penalties — including a pass interference by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix followed by HCD, leaving his man in the end zone to give up a touchdown. A tough couple of plays for the veteran. That score made it 7-2, Chargers.
Lance returned to the field for the third series in a row after his previous series was cut short. Lance’s first throw of the drive was errant and nearly intercepted. On third down, Lance appeared to miss Trent Sherfield streaking open over the middle of the field and took a sack.
Lance started 1-of-5 for nine yards with an interception, a sack, and a passer rating of 0.0. Unfortunately, the rookie struggles for San Francisco would continue, as Ambry Thomas was beaten deep on a 39-yard deep pass on the next series.
Thankfully, the defensive line continued to dominate and drew a holding penalty to put the Chargers behind the chains. But, unfortunately, a Jonas Griffith facemask allowed the Chargers to pick up the first down.
Talanoa Hufanga shot through a gap on first down for a huge tackle for loss. That was followed by an intentional grounding forced by pressure from Zack Kerr, who came down the line on the next play to help stop the Chargers.
A field goal made it 10-2, Chargers. Jimmy’s day was done, and Lance would come back onto the field with just under a minute to go. If it were a regular-season game, Kyle Shanahan likely would have used a timeout, but Lance had 75 yards to go with two timeouts to work with.
Lance found Trent Sherfield running wide open down the sideline for a gain of 41 yards to put the 49ers in the red zone. A touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu capped off an impressive drive. However, Robbie Gould, for the second time in as many games, missed the extra point attempt. That made the score 10-8, Chargers.
I found it interesting that Kyle Shanahan didn’t call a timeout after the 49ers’ defense stopped the Chargers on third down. The Niners lost about a minute by electing not to call a timeout. The odds of San Francisco scoring a touchdown in that situation were low, making the drive that much more impressive.
Lance started the second half. He was sacked on his first dropback after Corbin Kaufusiwas beat right away. His next pass was dropped by Richie James. The radar gun had Lance’s pass at 120 miles per hour. The Niners punted after Gallman came close to picking the 3rd & long up.
After the defense picked up another stop — they came close to intercepting a pass from Chase Daniel — Lance would take the field for his sixth series. Again, we saw him use his legs as a scrambler for the first time, as Lance ran past a Chargers linebacker for a gain of eight.
Lance was fortunate not to throw another interception on a play that ended as a holding call. Instead, he targeted James, who started to drift upfield, and Los Angele’s defender undercut the route to break the pass up.
Lance found Travis Benjamin on an in-breaking route for a 16-yard score. Lance manipulated the defense with his eyes/shoulders to create space and came back to Benjamin for an on-target throw. That’s why the 49ers drafted him at No. 3.
That made the score 15-10, and Alex Barrett did what the 49ers had all game on the next first down: tackle a Charger in the backfield. That helped the Niners get off the field in three downs.
Nate Sudfeld took over. Lance finished the game:
89.9 passer rating
Through two preseason games, Trey Lance is 13-of-28 passing (46%). If these passes were caught, he’d be 20-of-28 (71%)
After a Sudfeld three-and-out, Jared Mayden made a nice interception as he undercut a throw from Chase Daniel for an interception. Unfortunately, Sudfeld had a bad exchange with the center to give it back to the Chargers in the following play.
Sudfeld had a chance to give Shanahan a reason to keep him as the third quarterback, but the 49ers’ offense gained 19 yards on four drives before the 49ers ran the clock out.
Quietly, outside of a holding call, Jaylon Moore had an impressive game at left tackle. If the goal is to start your “best five,” Moore at right guard might be the answer. The only issue there is he hasn’t had any reps there due to injuries.
OL Senio Kelemete went down, which is not ideal. Kelemete had taken Aaron Banks’s spot on the second team at right guard. Dakoda Shepley moved from center to left guard once Kelemete went down.
This game was sloppy, even for preseason standards. With just over three minutes to play, both teams were a combined 7-for-24 on third down and had a combined 23 penalties for 203 yards with four turnovers.
It was fitting that the 49ers ended the game with a Kentavius Street sack.
Next up, the 49ers have to release five players by Tuesday at 1 p.m. to get to 80 players on the roster.