Grading the 49ers’ first quarter

Depending on your disposition, the 49ers either nailed the first four games of the season or were an abject failure.

For with the big picture in mind, 0-4 with three competitive games is an ideal outcome to the first year of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch’s reign over the franchise. For those who prefer their team to — y’know — actually win games, it hasn’t been easy.

Today, the Niners will play one of the most winnable game on their schedule. Andrew Luck might be practicing, but he won’t be playing for the Indianapolis Colts, who apparently are barely an NFL franchise when they don’t have one of the best quarterbacks in the league healthy and carrying the offense.

But, before we look forward, let’s reflect on what’s happened so far. Here’s how the 49ers fared in the first quarter of the season.

Quarterback: D+
Brian Hoyer has yet to deliver on any of the things the 49ers brought him in for this season. He’s making mistakes. He isn’t hitting receivers downfield. He doesn’t even look familiar with Shanahan’s offense despite playing in it before.

The nine-year pro has the third-worst passer rating in the league, ranking behind Mike Glennon, Jacoby Brissett of the Colts and Josh McCown.

He’s missing reads and crumbling under pressure.

Week 5 could very well be the week he turns it around, though. According to his teammates, he’s remained the same guy since he arrived in Santa Clara and, they say, there’s no reason to give up on him now. And facing a team that ranks in the bottom-four in passing yards allowed per game, this would be a poor time to maintain the status quo.

There’s always room for regression to the mean — both positive and negative. For instance, Alex Smith isn’t the best QB in the league, despite what his early returns would suggest. And maybe — just maybe — Hoyer’s early performance isn’t indicative of how he’ll fare the rest of the way.

Running backs: A-
Carlos Hyde is on pace for the best season of his career. He started the whispers of “Maybe Seattle’s defense has lost its magic” in Week 2 when he ran for 124 yards on 15 carries. He’s also due a new contract after this season.

The Ohio State product has a reputation for being a bruising runner, capable of ripping off 4.9 yards per attempt. But, it’s been his skills as a pass-catcher that have been most impressive. He’s 11 catches away from setting a new career high and — at 17 receptions — is tied with Le’Veon Bell on fewer targets.

When Frank Gore was a member of the 49ers, he told Hyde to “never let a rookie take your job.” Hyde has taken that advice to heart as he definitely hasn’t ceded much control of the position to undrafted free agent Matt Breida.

But, when he has gotten the call, Breida has been reliable and worthy of the backup role he earned in the preseason.

Wide receivers: C-
For how well Pierre Garcon has met expectations, Marquise Goodwin has fallen short of them.

Garcon has lent the 49ers’ receiving corps his steadiness, catching at least four balls in every game this season except for one. But he’s limited by the fact that the Niners haven’t been able to establish a deep threat.

Goodwin, a sprinter who was brought in to stretch the field, has yet to deliver on his outsize potential. He now has a concussion, his fourth that has been diagnosed in a little more than a year, and is questionable for today’s game against the Colts. Shanahan said he’ll handle the situation “as delicate as you possibly can.”

Goodwin could still return and end up swinging games — like he could’ve when he dropped an early long ball in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers — but, right now, his long-term health has to be the top priority.

And with him out of the picture, that means the Niners’ depth at wideout is lacking again — no matter how much of a pleasant surprise Trent Taylor has been out of the slot.

(Tight end George Kittle hasn’t made enough of an impact to register in this grading.)

Offensive line: C
This is a tough one to gauge.

On one hand, the 49ers’ O-line has allowed Hoyer to be sacked 13 times — tied for sixth-most. On the other, Hyde and Breida aren’t creating those lanes to run themselves.

Tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown have been solid, as has center Daniel Kilgore. The guards could use a kick in the pants to get things going, but with more time in the system, Laken Tomlinson could prove to be just what the Niners need the rest of the season to keep their QB upright and the penalty flag tucked into the referee’s pants.

But, as with any C-student, it could easily swing the other way without the right teaching.

Defensive line: B+
I’ll admit I’m grading on a curve here. Last season, this unit was so bad, you could almost guarantee the opposing rushing back was going to have a career game. This year, that isn’t happening.

Growth is important.

DeForest Buckner has been the 49ers’ best player this season and Arik Armstead looks to be a solid use of a first-round pick himself. With more time, Solomon Thomas could join that discussion and what a nice development that would be for the Faithful.

The great news: The Niners have the 15th-best run-stopping defense. That would’ve been inconceivable at any point of 2016.

Indianapolis’ offensive-line isn’t as terrible as Arizona’s — simply because no one’s is — so if the 49ers can come close to repeating their six-sack performance in Week 4, there’s reason for real hope in this unit.

Secondary: C+
The safeties have been great, the cornerbacks have not.

But the fact that the last-line-of-defense has grown into a point of pride for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit is major, because Eric Reid has been out and he’s still a bonafide NFL playmaker.

Now, if they could just find a way to convince opposing offensive coordinators to stop picking on Rashard Robinson so much …

Linebackers: Inc.
It’s not fair to give this group a grade because it’s been without it’s most promising contributor — rookie Reuben Foster — for the entire season save a couple of drives.

NaVorro Bowman isn’t the rock-solid backer of years past, but he’s still got some gas left in the tank. But he’d do much better if he had a younger, more explosive teammate next to him.

This group is going to struggle until Foster is back and wreaking havoc.

Considering he was shooting baskets on the mini hoop in the 49ers locker room earlier this week, it seems clear he’s nearing a return from the high-ankle sprain that has held him out so far. We can revisit this mark after next quarter.

Special teams: A
Punter Bradley Pinion has been great, which — you know what they say when your punter is a standout player.

Kicker Robbie Gould looks like a veritable Offensive MVP candidate.

Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.

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