These are the grades for the 49ers’ 24-17 loss to the Cowboys.
QUARTERBACK: C+. Blaine Gabbert played an efficient game. Completed 69 percent of his passes, averaged 8.5 yards per throw and posted a quarterback rating of 91.9. But he also made a game-losing mistake late in the fourth quarter. Here’s what happened: Gabbert threw deep to Torrey Smith, who was open running a deep post route. If Gabbert had thrown the ball into the middle of the field where Smith could have run to catch the ball, the pass would have been a touchdown and the game would have been tied. But the pass was short and behind Smith, who never had a chance to lay a finger on it. Game over.
RUNNING BACKS: B+. Carlos Hyde scored a touchdown and averaged 4.9 yards per carry on just 15 rushing attempts. He played well. Chip Kelly should have used him more often. More on Kelly below.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C. None of these guys can beat man coverage. Jeremy Kerley is the best receiver on the team, and even he struggles to create separation (he does most of his damage against zone coverage). Today, he caught six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown while the other starters, Quinton Patton and Torrey Smith, caught just one pass each. Both are total non-factors. Smith, in particular, might be the worst free-agent signing in the history of the franchise. Just a total waste of money.
TIGHT ENDS: B. Garrett Celek started in place of the injured Vance McDonald and caught 5 passes for 79 yards. Pretty good.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B. Created holes for Hyde and kept Gabbert on his feet most of the game. The only player on the line who struggled was the right tackle, Trent Brown, who gave up a sack and got flagged for a false start.
DEFENSIVE LINE: F. Completely overpowered by an offensive line that didn’t have two starters, which is shameful. First-round picks Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner can’t seem to stop the run or rush the quarterback on the road or at home. Even more shameful. Buckner left the game with a leg injury during the fourth quarter.
LINEBACKERS: F. Equally responsible for allowing 194 rushing yards. Michael Wilhoite replaced Gerald Hodges in the starting lineup and the defense didn’t improve. NaVorro Bowman appeared to suffer a possible season-ending Achilles tear in the second half, although nothing has been confirmed.
SECONDARY: F+. Collectively, this group gave up a passer rating of 114.7 to a rookie quarterback playing on the road, which is extra shameful. Rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson is responsible for the “+” next to this group’s “F” – he broke up three passes. Veteran cornerback Tramaine Brock was the worst cornerback on the field for either team. He gave up two touchdown catches on back-to-back drives during the second quarter – one to Terrance Williams and the other to Brice Butler. The Niners should bench Brock as soon as possible.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C. One of Bradley Pinion’s punts traveled only 26 yards, and the Cowboys tied the game a few plays later.
COACHES: D. At least Kelly made an effort to do something different. His game plan contained new stuff, such as a quarterback sweep with the running back as the lead blocker, a couple deep passes that were not completed and some zone-read plays where the Niners blocked the defender responsible for Gabbert so he’d have a better chance to gain yards on the ground.
The Cowboys’ defense was not prepared for those plays, and the Niners took an early 14-0 lead. Then, the Cowboys adjusted to Kelly’s game plan and outscored the Niners 24-3 after the first quarter.
You see, Chip, head coaches in the NFL make in-game adjustments. You should make them, too. You don’t, which is why you are 1-3.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.