49ers vs. Packers ratings: Jimmy Garoppolo stumbles without much support; George Kiittle shines
In their first prime-time game of the season, the 49ers lost 30-28 to the Packers. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers took advantage of a heavily exhausted San Francisco side game and couldn’t come out on top despite occasional offensive surges. As San Francisco led a late-game comeback that was almost a win, the Niners’ error-laden play got the result they received. Here’s a more in-depth look at how each seat group performed:
I predicted the 49ers would win on Sunday, but I was cautious as I thought head coach Kyle Shanahan would have to play more against Trey Lance to open the running game. Instead, Lance only saw the pitch on a pair of snaps (one of which resulted in a touchdown), and the fate of the Niners was in the hands of Jimmy Garoppolo.
The 49ers’ running offense was not effective at first, and Shanahan turned away from the ground game when they fell behind. Without a balanced attack, Garoppolo threw the ball 40 times on Sunday. He’s only attempted 40 passes in a game four times in his career. There is a reason.
Garoppolo made several bad decisions, including a fumble late in the game that led to a field goal for Green Bay. Ironically, his lone interception could have been one of his best throws of the day. Garoppolo threw a 48-yard throw at George Kittle in midfield with pressure to his face. The throw was on target and could have been a game-changer. However, cornerback Jaire Alexander made an incredible play, coming in from behind to cut Kittle and intercept the pass.
The interception was far from a blatant decision (or a throw) by Jimmy G, but it so brightened up his limits as a quarterback. Garoppolo lacks elite arm strength and anticipation. He read it right, delivered an above-average shot (for his standards), but it still left an opportunity for the defense to make a play.
Running backs: B-
Rookie Trey Sermon got the start, but an early fall and bobble seemed to leave Shanahan a little shy. With the Packers jumping to a sizable lead early on, Kyle Juszczyk saw plenty of time in the backfield as an additional pass blocker and receiver.
Shanahan will likely be criticized for walking away from Sermon for much of the first half, but Sermon is the 49ers running back. The Packers’ defense did a good job stopping Shanahan’s outer zone attack, and he chose to rely on the much healthier passing offense.
Things opened up a bit for Sermon in the second half, but his first start lacked remarkable play. Juszczyk, however, had a huge impact on the backfield. He had four receptions, including the 49ers’ late-game touchdown that led them 28-27 with 37 seconds left in regulation.
Tight end: B +
Sunday, George Kittle finally started as a receiver, leading the team in receptions (7) and in yards on reception (92). There aren’t many running backs that are more fun to watch in the NFL than Kittle, and he’s added a few games to his highlight reel. Of course, his performance would be an A for almost every other tight end in the league. However, whether it was playcall, quarterback, or Kittle himself, he still felt like the offense could have drawn more of him against Green Bay linebackers and safeties.
Wide receivers: B
Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Mohamed Sanu did not record exceptional figures. Still, for the first time in this entire season, no one should be talking about the invisible performances of the 49ers’ receivers. Samuel mishandled a pass from Garoppolo but easily made up for it with a pair of impressive catches in traffic throughout the game. Frankly, the Niners’ top three receivers had at least one catch on Sunday that knocked down a stray Garoppolo pitch.
Offensive line: D +
The 49ers offensive line was pretty poor in pass blocking, but the Packers’ pass rush is one area Green Bay has invested heavily in. What stands out as a particular letdown from the line is its inability to generate consistent holes on racing games. Perhaps things would have improved if San Francisco had stayed with the ground game longer, but they failed to capitalize on the opportunities they received.
There have been a pair of worrisome fundamental errors that are worth watching out for. Center Alex Mack angered a shotgun and cost the 49ers a third and a short by apparently slamming the ball early. Even star left tackle Trent Williams, who had a good game overall, missed edge rusher Preston Smith entirely on one play, allowing an easy sack on Garoppolo.
Defensive line: C-
Nick Bosa got off to a good start, making several early plays, but the Niners passing rush was surprisingly calm against a young and inexperienced Packers offensive line. Still, it’s unfair to say they didn’t have an impact on the game. Arik Armstead pushed the Packers out of goal reach on the 49ers’ lone sack of the day, and it was easy to see how most of Green Bay’s play calls gave their quarterback quick outs to avoid pressure. Obviously, a late-game sack could have won the 49ers game. Samson Ebukam could have done just that if he hadn’t been selected in the first game of the Packers’ winning campaign. Nonetheless, the pass rush missed his opportunity to seal the game.
Much like Kittle on the offensive side, linebacker Fred Warner has been solid all season, but hasn’t been the dominant force he’s capable of being. With a group of exhausted cornerbacks and a defensive line unable to dominate the game, Warner was possibly the defense’s last best shot to slow Rodgers down. Instead, Warner committed an out-of-character pass interference penalty on tight end Robert Tonyan and was only inches away from tipping Rodgers’ final completion to Davante Adams, who put up Mason Crosby’s winning goal.
The 49ers lost Jason Verrett in their first game and now had to face Aaron Rodgers, Adams and the versatile group of wide receivers of the Packers. It was already going to be a challenge to slow down Green Bay’s offense, and then starters K’Waun Williams and Josh Norman were both forced to come out with injuries. With Emmanuel Moseley, Deommodore Lenoir and Dontae Johnson the only healthy cornerbacks left on the list, the 49ers secondary was struggling. Rodgers split the unit fairly easily, and the Niners also committed significant pass interference penalties. However, it is difficult to overemphasize this group given the circumstances.
Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are urged to do a lot in the 49ers’ defensive scheme. The team’s problems at the cornerback only put more pressure on the duo. After an outstanding game in Philadelphia last week, Ward and Tartt were better than good against Green Bay. But, against Rodgers, that was not enough.
Special teams: A
While not getting much attention after the loss, 49ers special teams coordinator Richard Hightower deserves a lot of credit for the unit’s work over the past two weeks. After a shaky start to the season in Detroit, the Niners produced several big plays on special teams. Trenton Cannon starred, preparing the 49ers for their first touchdown with a 68-yard kickoff return late in the first half. However, Aiyuk also returned two punters for 23 yards, Mitch Wishnowsky averaged 53.3 yards per punt and Robbie Gould was perfect on extra runs. They have to sort out the rest of their roster, but it looks like a bunch of elite special teams.