49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 24-20 win vs. Steelers

49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 24-20 win vs. Steelers

SANTA CLARA – Coach Kyle Shanahan did not have many opportunities to celebrate in his first two seasons in charge of the 49ers.

But already this season the 49ers have managed to overcome a slew of correctable mistakes to pull out victories against Tampa Bay in Week 1 and on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 49ers overcame five giveaways to pull out a 24-20 victory over the Steelers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

“To have two games like that where things don’t go perfect, says a lot about the character of the guys in there,” Shanahan said. “I think we have been better in how we’re playing. But it also says our guys are mentally a lot stronger.

“They were pretty relentless through everything. They didn’t waver at all. They were excited at halftime. They were excited in the third, and obviously, they were really excited when we got back in.”

Yes, it was not perfect, and the grades will reflect that. After all, this club is now being held to a higher standard. Here is the 49ers’ report card from their Week 3 victory over Pittsburgh (0-3):

Rushing offense

Raheem Mostert led the 49ers with 79 yards rushing and a 6.6-yard average. Matt Breida gained 68 yards with a 4.9 average. Jeff Wilson scored touchdowns on two shorts bursts up the middle. Those are the good deeds done by this unit.

However, Mostert lost 18 yards when he mishandled a pitch from Jimmy Garoppolo. He also lost possession on a fumble. Garoppolo and center Weston Richburg botched an exchange for another turnover. Also, they mistimed a fourth-quarter shotgun snap that resulted in another giveaway when the snap hit Richie James. These are mistakes that simply should not be made.
Grade: C-minus

Passing offense

Garoppolo was exceptional. He hung in there and delivered some of his most-impressive throws of his 11 starts with the 49ers. Garoppolo completed 23 of 32 passes for 277 yards with one touchdown – the game-winner to Dante Pettis with 80 seconds remaining. But he also had two interceptions, as passes to Breida and Pettis were deflected off their hands and picked off.

Garoppolo’s toughness was on display. He was sacked just once and absorbed eight hits. A win is a win, but the 49ers made way too many mistakes in the passing game, too.
Grade: C

Rushing Defense

The key to the team’s defensive effort the past two weeks has been the 49ers’ ability to shut down the opposition’s running game. Last week, they put the clamps on Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon. On Sunday, James Conner managed just 43 yards rushing on 13 carries. The defense also came up with a huge play late in the fourth quarter when Arik Armstead forced Conner to fumble and DeForest Buckner made the recovery.

It does not get much better than how the 49ers played in the run game. Buckner had eight tackles, while Kwon Alexander added seven.
Grade: A

Passing Defense

Buckner and Dee Ford had sacks. Ford and Armstead put pressure on Steelers rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph, which led directly to K’Waun Williams’ interception. That play provided the 49ers’ offense with a short field and, ultimately, the go-ahead points early in the third quarter. But Ahkello Witherspoon gave up a 76-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on a crossing route – a play that Tarvarius Moore should have prevented had he taken a better angle.

After Witherspoon left the lineup with a foot injury, veteran Jason Verrett stepped in and had a disastrous back-to-back sequence of plays. He was flagged with a 32-yard penalty for pass interference, then yielded a 39-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson. The coaches benched Verrett and inserted Emmanuel Moseley, who was on the field as the Steelers’ final two possessions stalled.
Grade: C-plus

Special Teams

New long-snapper Jon Condo, a 14-year veteran, looked a little shaky early in the game. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky had a very good net average of 43.3 yards on three punts, though one of them went into the end zone for a touchback. Robbie Gould made a 24-yard field goal and his three extra points. Richie James had a solid showing with a 10.6 average on five punt returns.
Grade: B

[RELATED: Pettis redeems himself with game-winning TD]


There is no way the 49ers of the past five seasons – the non-playoff years – would have been able to overcome all the mistakes and still won this game. So there’s that. There were glaring mistakes – inexcusable mistakes – on both sides of the ball. Most of the miscues came on offense, but the defense can also clean up some errors.

After winning two games on the road to open the season, the 49ers would have given back all of the good vibes if they had lost this game. This game was important. Their victory was not pretty. But, ultimately, it was a huge win.

Still, I cannot bring myself to give this performance a “B.” And that might be the biggest compliment I can give the 49ers for where they have been and where they are capable of going.
Grade: C-plus.

Why later kickoff could prove beneficial to 49ers' health vs. Packers

Why later kickoff could prove beneficial to 49ers' health vs. Packers

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers might need every extra hour they are getting this week for some players to be available for kickoff on Sunday.

The 49ers' game against the Green Bay Packers was flexed from a scheduled 1:25 p.m. PT start to "Sunday Night Football" at 5:20.

That was a significant development for 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan when it comes to helping such players as tight end George Kittle (ankle, knee) and wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) and Deebo Samuel (shoulder) get ready to play. The 49ers (9-1) face the Packers (8-2) in a key NFC game this week at Levi's Stadium.

“I’m just glad we’ve got four more hours for Kittle and Deebo and Emmanuel to rest and recover,” Shanahan said.

Kittle, the 49ers top pass-catcher, has missed the past two games due to injuries he sustained on Oct. 31. He did not practice on Wednesday, though he was on the practice field with his helmet in hand.

Shanahan said Kittle is doing better this week but still not well enough to practice.

“It’s going to come down to the wire again and hopefully it will work out,” Shanahan said.

Sanders and Samuel did not practice, but both were on the practice field to watch and are expected to be available to play Sunday night against the Packers.

Defensive end Dee Ford (hamstring) and left tackle Joe Staley (finger) have been ruled out due to injuries.

Running back Matt Breida and kicker Robbie Gould did not practice. Running back Raheem Mostert, nose tackle D.J. Jones and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair were limited.

Shanahan said he truly believes the later start time on Sunday will be beneficial to his team.

[RELATED: Witherspoon expected back as starter for 49ers vs. Packers]

“When you have a lot of guys that are banged up, the later it can be better,” Shanahan said. “I think it’s a little harder to get going early in the morning. If it was an East Coast Monday night game, that’d probably be the best, except I wouldn’t want to travel and be on the road.

“But the longer our guys can have the better. Our guys need it right now.”

49ers practice participation

No practice
TE George Kittle (ankle, knee)
RB Matt Breida (ankle)
WR Emmanuel Sanders (ribs)
WR Deebo Samuel (shoulder)
K Robbie Gould (right quadriceps
DE Dee Ford (hamstring)

LT Joe Staley (finger)
NT D.J. Jones (groin)
LB Azeez Al-Shaair (concussion)
RB Raheem Mostert (knee)

Kyle Shanahan believes 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo exceeds some expectations


Kyle Shanahan believes 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo exceeds some expectations

SANTA CLARA  -- Heading into Week 12, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has now started in as many games post ACL surgery as he did prior to it. 

Garoppolo has clearly had his ups and downs, but coach Kyle Shanahan believes in certain areas his quarterback is ahead of schedule in his progress. Garoppolo has completed 68.8 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions giving him a 97.7 rating over 10 games. 

“I knew it would start out slow for him this year like it goes for everyone coming off an ACL,” Shanahan said. “Especially for a guy, who in my opinion, was almost a rookie. I know he played less than rookie quarterbacks the year before, guys like Baker [Mayfield] and stuff. 

“So he hadn’t played much, and then he came off an ACL, so I’d be worried for anyone in that situation. I think Jimmy has exceeded some expectations sometimes, but I still think he’s playing well and can still get a lot better.”

At the beginning of the season, the 49ers didn’t need to rely on the efficiency of Garoppolo to win games boasting the top producing run game in the league. Now that opposing defenses have keyed in on stopping the likes of Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman, more responsibility has fallen onto the shoulders of the man under center. 

Garoppolo has made outstanding no-look plays like the throw to Jeff Wilson for the game-winning touchdown facing the Cardinals. He threaded the needle between two defenders for Kendrick Bourne’s score in the same game. But while not all of the interceptions have been entirely his fault, there have been a few that he’d definitely like to have back. 

Like his receivers, Garoppolo has bounced back from those mistakes and Shanahan sees that as an important quality in a quarterback. With the same mentality as in the locker room, Shanahan took some responsibility for the errors. He also knows that if there is no risk, there is no reward. 

“It’s nice when they do make a lot of plays and do some good stuff,” Shanahan said. “But some bad plays do come with that and I understand that and I think Jimmy will get better in that area. I think he does continue to get better in that area and I also think that we could make it easier on him based on the type of game we call and how good we do around him. 

“But that’s part of football. It’s very rare that you just come out and throw a ton of touchdowns and no picks, but I do like that Jimmy doesn’t seem to be affected by it that he doesn’t go into a shell he still gives us a chance to win. And the more that he can keep playing the way he is without doing those turnovers, how much harder he will be to stop.”  

Garoppolo has appeared much more comfortable in the pocket, not shying away from defenders coming towards his lower body which he seemed to do in the preseason. He has made impressive throws with defenders in his face and has not shied away from contact. 

[RELATED: Jimmy G joined Montana, Young in win over Cards

Shanahan doesn’t believe that Garoppolo needs to take hits to prove his toughness but sees what he has been able to accomplish as a rare quality. 

“I think it takes very special guys to hang in there with the toughness that you got to have and still be able to make decisions, and still have an elite arm, and still be able to read everything and process it, and that’s why I don’t think there’s 32 on the planet. I think there’s less than that.”