By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
Jimmy Garoppolo and the rest of the San Francisco 49ers got a dose of reality Sunday afternoon during their visit to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Vikings, the NFL’s top defensive team in 2017, held Garoppolo and the rest of the 49ers offense at bay for most of the afternoon, as San Francisco took a 24-16 loss in their regular season opener.
Here are five takeaways from the 49ers’ Week 1’s loss.
Garoppolo had a rough time figuring out the Vikings secondary
Heading into Week 1, Garoppolo and the 49ers offense looked to be a force to be reckoned with 2018.
Finishing the 2017 season on a 5-0 run and throwing for 1,516 yards and seven touchdowns, Garoppolo looked to be one of the league’s budding superstars, earning him a $137 million contract in the offseason.
Sunday was a rude awakening for him, though, as the 26-year old signal caller was held to 261 passing yards, throwing three interceptions on the day.
While his first pick came after a dropped pass from Dante Pettis, the other two were products of just poorly thrown balls. This included an errant pass to Kendrick Bourne that was picked off by Minnesota corner Mike Hughes, who took it back for 28 yards and a touchdown.
“It is what it is,” Garoppolo said after the game. “You never want those things to happen but it’s unfortunate but we just have to bounce back from it.”
Garoppolo was also held to a 45-percent completion percentage (15-for-33), his lowest as a member of the 49ers.
Considering that the 49ers were going up against one of the league’s best secondaries, the lack of production through the air should still be concerning for head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. heading into Week 2.
The 49ers are in a world of hurt at right guard
Mike Person made his 49ers starting debut at right guard, but his afternoon didn’t last long.
After being rolled up on by Weston Richburg during a zone run to the right, Person was forced to leave with a foot injury. Former first-round pick Joshua Garnett stepped up in his place.
Garrett, who was beat out by Person earlier in the week, didn’t stay on the field much longer as he, too, suffered what the 49ers are calling a foot injury, keeping him sidelined for the rest of the day.
“With Person and Garnett, we’re not sure,” said Shanahan. “They’re both going to have to get looked at more. It definitely was too bad for them to come out.”
As a result, the 49ers were forced to slide rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey to guard and insert offensive lineman Garry Gilliam at right tackle.
With that side of the line comprised, the 49ers couldn’t run to that side of the offense very often, resulting in a pass-heavy attack from that point forward.
Fred Warner was very impressive in his professional debut
Fred Warner had an impressive professional debut against Minnesota on Sunday. Leading the team with 12 tackes (11 solo), Warner stepped into the MIKE linebacker role nicely in place of the suspended Reuben Foster, who will also miss Week 2 due to suspension.
Warner also had one tackle for loss, stopping Vikings running back Dalvin Cook behind the line of scrimmage.
“It looked like he made some good play out there,” Shanahan said. “He tackled well, I didn’t see him miss any assignments and he didn’t hesitate. When he had his gap and he saw it there, he shot his guns and made tackles.”
With his impressive performance, it’s not too far out of the realm of possibility that the 49ers will keep the BYU product in the starting lineup even after Foster comes back.
Considering the fact that fellow linebacker Brock Coyle also left Sunday’s game with a concussion, Warner may have earned himself a substantial amount of playing time thanks to his strong outing against Minnesota.
Red alert for 49ers red zone offense
The 49ers were simply atrocious in the red zone, which should be a red flag moving forward.
In four trips inside the Vikings 20-yard line, the 49ers came away with only nine points (three field goals) as well as fumbling on the one-yard line.
“I thought Kyle [Shanahan] got in a good rhythm,” Garoppolo said. “He was calling good plays and putting us in good situations and that makes everything easier. We just have to execute better. He puts us in good situations like that, we have to make the easy completion, make the easy catch, all that stuff.”
The fumble came in the second quarter as Alfred Morris was stripped on the one-yard line on second down. Morris was attempting to cross the plane when Minnesota defensive lineman Linval Joseph punched the ball out.
On the other three possessions, San Francisco was unable to execute in short-field opportunities as Garoppolo was just 1-for-5 inside of 20 yards, including 0-2 targeting the end zone.
San Francisco pass catchers drop the ball — literally
For as poorly as the 49ers generally played, it’s not to say they didn’t have their opportunities to take control of an ultimately winnable game.
Those opportunities were squandered, however, as 49ers pass catchers were unable to come down with big plays when they needed to.
Perhaps most evident was a dropped pass by tight end George Kittle, who was left wide open on a bootleg toss down the left sideline.
With no one around him, Kittle looked to run before he caught the ball, leading to a drop on what would have been at least a 60-yard gainer, if not a touchdown. The ensuing play would be Garoppolo’s pick-six to Hughes, completing a 14-point swing.
On the next drive, after Kittle’s mental lapse, veteran wide receiver Pierre Garçon had a chance to come down with a touchdown of his own.
Inside the red zone for the second time, Garoppolo put a ball right on Garçon’s hands, but the 11-year veteran was unable to secure the pass after being undercut in the air.
As Garçon hit the ground, so did the football, forcing the 49ers to settle for a 33-yard Robbie Gould field goal, his second of three.
“I know [Minnesota is] a good team but I think we’re a good team, too,” Shanahan said. “When you have some of those drops and missed plays down there, it’s very hard to beat a good team.”
– Dante Pettis had a strong professional debut scoring the 49ers’ only touchdown of the afternoon.
Pettis, while only hauling in two catches, had 61 yards as San Francisco’s second leading pass catcher behind Kittle (five catches for 91 yards).
Creating separation regularly, Pettis looked to be a hard cover for the Minnesota defense. Unfortunately, a few errant throws by Garoppolo left Pettis without a few more catches than he actually should have had.
This included an Garoppolo’s first interception that was thrown too far ahead of Pettis on a shallow slant route.
“I thought Dante [Pettis] played great the whole game,” Garoppolo said. “For it being his first NFL game I thought he played really well and he stepped up.”
Pettis was able to come down with the 49ers only touchdown on a 22-yard throw from Garoppolo on second down in the third quarter. Dragging his feet for the score, Pettis showed his field awareness and ability to secure passes while falling out of bounds.
– The 49ers defensive line showed up against Minnesota, registering three sacks on the afternoon.
While much of the attention was put on Minnesota’s defensive line, who also got three sacks on Garoppolo, San Francisco’s D-line played well above expectations by bottling up the run and getting to the quarterback.
Headlined by DeForest Buckner, who had was the team’s second-leading tackler with seven (only behind Warner’s 12), San Francisco’s front line held the Vikings to only 116 yards rushing.
In addition, Buckner registered 2 1/2 of the team’s 3 sacks to nearly equal is entire total from 2017 (3).
With this kind of production from the 49ers defensive line, much of the pressure put on San Francisco’s secondary can be eliminated. This comes as good news considering how many question marks there are back in that unit.