SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers’ 30-27 home opener win against the Detroit Lions wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t entirely sloppy, either. Sunday was very much a roses-and-thorns day for the 49ers — some good, some bad, some meh.
Pass rush? Meh. Secondary? Everyone other than Richard Sherman needs to take a very hard look at the tape. Matt Breida? Man’s game. Pierre Garçon? He may be old, but he’s the kind of receiver you need when your speed guy is hurt and nobody else is doing much of anything against a passing defense that was sixth-worst in the NFL last year.
— Breida’s career-long 66-yard run showed off a lot about the erstwhile second-string back behind the now-injured Jerick McKinnon. First: He’s got a bit of wiggle to him. Second: He’s got a second gear that can get him through a secondary. Third: Garçon? Check please.
Garçon’s 20-yard-plus bulldozing block on cornerback Nevin Lawson at the end of Breida’s run was a thing of beauty. It should be disseminated to every wide receiver coach at every level of football.
“I always tell him he turns into a fullback at the end of the play, because he ends up being the lead blocker to get us in, which was real nice,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said.
That’s how you win locker room points.
“I actually had one in college, it was the national championship game, Nate Kmic was the running back, and it was kind of a similar block,”Garçon said. “I had one last year where we didn’t score on it, against Seattle, it kind of reminded me of that one.”
A 10-year veteran with seven seasons of 700 yards receiving or more, someone judged to be past his prime, not only was San Francisco’s leading pass-catcher on the day (four catches for 57 yards), but helped pave the way for what would be the decisive score.
“It gave the momentum that the team, the stadium, that everybody needed,” Garçon said.
— The pass rush? That was a lot of ‘meh,’ until you consider who they were going against.
Early on, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner looked great. But they all but disappeared for the second and third quarters.
Much of that can be chalked up to the fact that Detroit has a very quick-trigger passing game, getting the ball out in two seconds or less.
“He was just getting that ball out quick,” Buckner said. “He’s getting it out way too quick. I was always half a second away. We’ve just got to clean it up all around on defense.”
Given how good Buckner and Co. looked against the Vikings in Week 1, it was a pretty big come-down, at least statistically. With high-scoring Kansas City coming up next week, armed with rookie Patrick Mahomes and his 143.3 QB rating (and his six touchdowns on Sunday), the pass rush needs to be more effective.
— After targeting Richard Sherman early, Stafford didn’t throw his way the rest of the game — though he did go underneath the zone on Sherman’s side late in the third. Sherman still came down to get the stop.
“I didn’t realize it,” Sherman said. I guess when the cock struck zero, I covered my man. I was there the majority of the time. 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.”
Ahkello Witherspoon, on the other hand, was beaten like a drum twice on the day, both for touchdowns.
“You have 24 hours,” said Sherman, who went around the locker room after his podium appearance to talk to each of the other defensive backs still at their lockers. “Regardless of the outcome or how you play, you have 24 hours, you look at the tape, you correct your mistakes and you move on.”
Witherspoon knew Monday of last week, he said, that he would get targeted.
“You’ve got an All-Pro corner on the other side of you, how are you going to respond? That’s my job,” Witherspoon said. “That’s just the nature of my job. I have to be ready every single play. That’s the mindset that I have to have with Richard Sherman. I have an opportunity to make even more plays.”
The first touchdown when he was caught cheating by looking in the backfield, making his first step forward instead of keeping his eye on Kenny Golloday.
“They leaked out and did a crack and go,” Witherspoon said. “I’ve just got to have better eyes.”
The second touchdown, he lost former Cal receiver Marvin Jones on a drag in the end zone with 8:36 left in the game for a five-yard touchdown.
“Outside leverage, just a challenging route against outside leverage,” Witherspoon said. “I’ve just got to close down the space and make the play.”
— Backup running back Raheem Mostert showed his value on special teams, punishing Jamal Agnew on a punt return with 8:06 left before halftime by sticking him at the Detroit 19 as he caught the ball.
“Raheem is playing at such a high level,” Shanahan said. “He started with that last year. I think he was one of the better special teams players in the league last year, and he has started off continuing that this year … Every time I looked up today, he seemed to be making plays, too. He does a hell of a job for us on special teams, and there’s going to come a time this year where we’re going to really need him on offense, also.
— San Francisco missed 14 tackles in Week 1, and by an unofficial count, it’s going to be double digits again this week. They can’t get Reuben Foster back soon enough. He’s allowed back with the team as soon as they start practicing for Kansas City.
“We addressed a lot of it last week, too,” Shanahan said. “I thought we had some missed tackles versus Minnesota. I looked up a couple times today and saw a few of them also … That’s something we have to do a better job of.”
Shanahan said doing a bunch of tackling drills in practice is “not very smart,” but the 49ers need “11 guys swarming to the ball,” and to do that, they can’t let single defenders get isolated in space.
— After tallying 12 tackles in the opener, rookie linebacker Fred Warner had another solid game in the middle with 10 stops — second on the team. The rest of the linebacking corps, not so much. Elijah Lee was a bright spot, but when the tape is reviewed, most of the missed tackles will come from this group, which made a not-very-good Lions run game look somewhat passable with 5.4 yards per carry.
That rushing game, though, came at the expense of Stafford. Once the Lions went away from the run game, Stafford flipped the switch. Detroit ran the ball just eight times in the second half, and Stafford went 18-of-32 for 220 yards after the break.
“Things got kind of sloppy in the second half,” Warner said.
— The bad news: San Francisco allowed six sacks on the day. The good news: Jimmy Garoppolo — not the offensive line — was responsible for at least three of them, trying to extend plays instead of throwing the ball away. The better news: After being sacked four times in the first half, wasn’t sacked again until there were less than eight minutes left in the game, on a broken-play scramble.
Three of Garoppolo’s sacks came on second down. On the day, San Francisco averaged 7.8 yards to go on second down. They averaged 3.6 yards per second down play.
— Even with the right guard spot still uncertain, a lot of Matt Breida’s yards came over that gap, and the same goes for Alfred Morris. Speaking of that running back tandem, they both seemed to get in rhythm, combining for six receptions for 53 yards and 25 runs for 186. Combined, they accounted for 239 of the 49ers’ 346 net yards.