SANTA CLARA – Jarryd Hayne is considered the 49ers’ best option on punt returns, but the club does not believe his skills translate as well on kickoffs.
“Punt return and kickoff return are two different skillsets,” 49ers special-teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said on Wednesday. “It’s kind of like (how) you look at a running back. Some running backs are really good at running inside zone or an (isolation) running power. And some running backs are really good on the outsize zone and toss sweeps.
“So it’s kind of two different skillsets. Not to say that Jarryd can’t do it, but that’s not his strong suit.”
McGaughey acknowledged that Hayne is the best player on the 49ers at catching punts. The former Australia rugby league star is also adept at running in space, which makes him a better fit for punt returns.
[REWIND: 49ers snap count: Hayne supplies highlight in limited role]
“If you look at the space in a punt return, it’s a lot more than opposed to the space on a kickoff,” McGaughey said. “It can get real tight in there in a hurry. And that’s something he’s still trying to get a feel for. I think his strength is punt return, and that’s where we’re going to keep him.”
Hayne has averaged 14.7 yards on three punt returns in three games with one lost fumble. His 37-yard return on Sunday set up the 49ers’ only score in their 47-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Rookie DeAndrew White averaged 23.7 yards on six kickoff returns the past two weeks after being inactive for the first game of the season. Hayne handled just one kickoff return in the exhibition season and had a 33-yard return – from 7 yards deep in the end zone to the 26-yard line.
Hayne has also not gotten much of an opportunity as a running back in the regular season. After leading the 49ers in rushing in the preseason with a 7.0-yard average, Hayne has 16 yards on six rushing attempts. Backup running back Mike Davis has 14 rushes for just 20 yards.
The 49ers got to Russell Wilson in Monday night's 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Wilson was sacked a season-high five times at Levi's Stadium, posting his second-worst passer rating of 2019 (86.9) and a season-low 43.6 QBR. He also threw his second interception of the season and fumbled for the first time since Week 4.
Yet Wilson did just enough to remain effective in spite of that pressure, showing why he is an MVP frontrunner when he led the Seahawks to their game-winning field-goal drive in overtime. Wilson also employed plenty of misdirection to keep the 49ers' dominant pass rush at bay, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
On the season, the 49ers have pressured QBs on 29.7 percent of dropbacks. That 17 percent pressure rate on play-action plays would be 30th-best in the NFL if extended over a full season, just behind the Cincinnati Bengals (17.1 percent) and just ahead of the Oakland Raiders (15.9 percent).
For reference, those two teams have combined for five fewer sacks (30) than the 49ers have all season.
Wilson's play-action success could give opposing teams something of a blueprint, and that could trip up the 49ers in their own division down the stretch. In addition to playing the Seahawks once more, the 49ers also will play the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16 at Levi's. Rams coach Sean McVay loves using play-action, and the Rams were far more efficient last season on play-action passes than traditional ones. The Rams have taken a step back this season and the 49ers kept LA's offense in check in Week 6, but play-action remains a big part of the Rams' offense and the 49ers will have to be ready for it.
[RELATED: 49ers ready to focus on Cardinals after tough Seahawks loss]
It doesn't stop with the Seahawks and Rams. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is known for his play-action abilities, too, while Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers also have been better in play-action this season. The 49ers play Green Bay and Arizona in each of the next two weeks.
San Francisco has a difficult slate of QBs remaining on its schedule, including ones who succeed where Wilson did Monday night. That's one additional area the 49ers will have to shore up down the stretch.
Despite the 49ers not suffering their first loss until Week 10, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with his play in 2019.
He has done enough to lead his team to victories in all but one game this season, but the 49ers haven’t had to ask much of their signal-caller thanks to a dominant defense and a highly-potent running game.
His first chance to make a statement against a great team in prime time didn’t go as expected, as Garoppolo was just above a 50 percent completion percentage and had his worst QB rating (66.2) of the year in Monday night’s 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
"At one point, I remember looking up at the TV, and I said, 'I cannot remember Jimmy Garoppolo playing with happy feet like this,'" King told Mike Florio and Chris Simms of Pro Football Talk. "Look, this is whatever, like his 18th NFL start, so we don't really know him yet, but that was a bad night for Jimmy Garoppolo and for 49ers fans who want to love him, who want to have faith in him."
The 49ers might have fallen in the team’s first true test of 2019, but there are plenty of worthy opponents on the horizon for San Francisco.
[RELATED: Why 49ers fans should be optimistic after loss to Seahawks]
After hosting the Cardinals in Week 11, San Francisco will take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a recently flexed matchup on "Sunday Night Football," followed up by trips to Baltimore and New Orleans in consecutive weeks.
So there will be ample opportunity for Jimmy G and his squad to rebound in front of a prime-time audience.