Five Takeaways: San Francisco 49ers escape fourth-quarter comeback by Detroit Lions

By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner

SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers escaped a late charge by the Detroit Lions on Sunday to secure their first win of 2018.

As San Francisco endured Matthew Stafford’s fourth-quarter surge, they watched their own quarterback get pulverized in the process.

Along with that, here are five takeaways from the 49ers 30-27 win over the Lions.

Garoppolo took too many sacks in the pocket

Jimmy Garoppolo was battered Sunday afternoon, getting sacked six times for 50 yards against Detroit.

One main reason: Garoppolo’s determination to stay in the pocket and let his receivers — who were well-covered — get open down field.

As a result, the Lions’ four-man rush was able to get home and lay the hammer on Garoppolo, whose jersey had a multitude of grass stains by the end of the game.

“I thought he took too many [sacks],” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We’ve got to get open. We’ve got to beat man coverage, that’s for sure …We’ve got to get rid of the ball.”

Along with the issues beating coverage, Garoppolo’s reluctancy to get the ball out early may have come from the conscious choice to avoid interceptions.

In Week 1 against Minnesota, Garoppolo threw three picks, including one that was returned for a touchdown, contributing to a 24-16 loss. Those memories may have very well affected his decision making.

“It’s always in your mind you don’t want to throw interceptions,” Garoppolo said. “But, there’s a happy medium. It’s like everything with being a quarterback. It’s about decision making and putting your team in the right spot to be successful.”

Late-game decision making presents problems

The 49ers had secured a 17 point lead late in the third quarter but that cushion quickly dissipated in the fourth quarter as the Lions made their run.

Fifteen seconds before the two minute warning, the 49ers faced a third-and-two situation on their own 43-yard line, up by three points.

Instead of running the ball in the short yardage situation, Shanahan elected to throw the ball, nearly costing the 49ers the game.

In an instance of miscommunication, Garoppolo attempted to hit running back Matt Breida in the left flat, but Lions safety Tracey Walker jumped the route to intercept the pass.

Walker returned the pick to San Francisco’s seven yard line to set up the Lions for a chance to tie or take the lead late.

The 49ers caught a massive break, however, as the play was negated thanks to a holding penalty on linebacker Quandre Diggs.

“[I was] very happy,” said Garoppolo. “I heard George [Kittle] got held pretty good on that, so good thing that that one got called back.”

While the 49ers obviously dodged a bullet there, the team’s late game decision making will have to sharpen up if they hope to continue to win games. Next time, a bright yellow flag might not come to the rescue.

Teams still refuse to test Sherman

Richard Sherman is coming off of one of the most devastating injuries that a player who relies on agility and speed, like himself, can suffer.

After tearing his Achilles tendon, Sherman has come back in 2018 as one of the 49ers’ starting cornerbacks — a team captain, to boot — and teams have refused to throw to his side of the field.

In total, the Lions threw at Sherman a total of two times. Once on a bubble screen and another in the shallow flat at the beginning of the game.

“I was there the majority of the time,” Sherman explained. “Stafford looked over there a few times and he pulled the ball back. I would have had two or three picks if he would have just let it go”

In Week 1, the Minnesota Vikings, too, seldom threw in Sherman’s direction. Instead, similar to the Lions’ offense, they picked on second-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon.

As a result, the Lions scored two touchdowns in Witherspoon’s direction over the course of the game.

Matt Breida is turning into a reliable back

Running back Matt Breida turned heads on Sunday with a 138-yard performance that included a 66-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Splitting carries with Alfred Morris, Breida averaged 12.5 yards on 11 touches to rank third in franchise history for single-game average (minimum 10 attempts).

After losing starting running back Jerick McKinnon to a torn ACL at the beginning of the season, the functionality of the 49ers running game was suddenly in question. Luckily for the 49ers, Breida’s breakout game may provide some solution to that problem.

Oddly enough, the 49ers elected to go with Morris towards the end of the game in an attempt to run out the clock.

“A lot of people thought this year I wasn’t going to get as much playing time as last year,” Breida said. “It sucks that Jerick went down but me and Alfred [Morris] had a great game, too. We’ll be able to help this team out a lot and have a great year.”

How the 49ers handle Breida’s playing time moving forward has yet to be determined, but there’s no doubt the second-year back provided a strong case to see more field time on Sunday.

Too many missed tackles on defense

One area of defense the 49ers hoped to improve on this week was making open-field tackles. Rather than improve, though, San Francisco continued to whiff on ball carriers in open space against Detroit, often allowing drives to extend when they initially looked to have contained the ball carrier.

Some of the issues can be attributed to that of mistakes made by young players. Rookie linebacker Fred Warner and second-year corner Witherspoon were two of the biggest culprits on Sunday as the pair combined for three missed open-field tackles.

While the 49ers kept Detroit to a 43-percent third down conversion rate, that number would have been significantly lower had the team made an otherwise missed tackle or two in isolation situations.

“To me, you’re not going to do a bunch of tackling drills in practice,” Shanahan explained. “That’s not very smart. You’ve got to do it on gameday, but to me, when you’re struggling at tackling it means you need 11 guys swarming to the ball.”

San Francisco will have to clean up their tackling before next week as they will be taking on the Kansas City Chiefs, who have several weapons that can make players miss in the open field. If not, things could get ugly at Arrowhead Stadium.

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