These are the grades for the 49ers’ 23-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
QUARTERBACK: B+. Colin Kaepernick committed no turnovers in his return to the site where he threw four interceptions and two pick-sixes last season. Also posted a passer rating of 89.6 and tied the game with a four-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
RUNNING BACKS: F. Carlos Hyde usually starts dancing in the backfield during third quarter. Today, he wasted less time and started dancing during the second quarter. Time to bench this bust. He gained 14 yards on 13 carries.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C. Jeremy Kerley, the best receiver on the roster, caught seven passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Torrey Smith, the worst receiver on the roster, caught two passes for 26 yards and dropped what should have been a game-tying catch in the fourth quarter. No wonder the 49ers couldn’t trade him at the deadline. Who would want him?
TIGHT ENDS: B-. Vance McDonald would be the 49ers’ best skill player if he could catch the ball consistently. Today, he caught four passes on six targets for 50 yards. His backup, Garrett Celek, caught no passes and committed a holding penalty.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D. Gave up three sacks and created hardly any holes for the running backs. Daniel Kilgore also committed a holding penalty that knocked the Niners out of field goal range.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A+. Held Cardinals running back David Johnson to just 2.9 yards per carry simply by covering the guards and using a 46 defense instead of a 3-4, just as I suggested. More on this adjustment below.
LINEBACKERS: B. Ahmad Brooks and Eli Harold both set edges beautifully against the run, and Gerald Hodges picked off Carson Palmer, who needs to retire. This group would get an A+ if Nick Bellore hadn’t played. But he did play for some reason, and gave up a 3-yard touchdown catch to Johnson in the first half, and a 12-yard first-down catch to Johnson in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. The Cardinals went after Bellore every time they needed a big play.
SECONDARY: D. Jimmie Ward, the best corner on the team, was flagged three times for 48 yards — 48 percent of the team’s total penalty yardage. Together, this group gave up 376 yards through the air just one week after giving up 323. That’s 699 the past two games. Is that good?
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Phil Dawson never misses.
COACHES: B. Chip Kelly managed Kaepernick perfectly. Started the game calling short, safe throws to build Kaepernick’s confidence. And by the second half, Kaepernick was as confident as we’ve seen him in years.
Jim O’Neil deserves credit for taking my advice and switching the defensive alignment to a packed-in 46, otherwise known as a “Bear front.” Sure, he had eight games to figure out this adjustment by himself, but at least he listened when I told him what to do.
I don’t ask for a lot, but I think he owes me a nickel.
Unfortunately for O’Neil, I forgot to tell him how to cover David Johnson when he splits out wide. O’Neil gave the task to Nick Freaking Bellore, who had no chance. Obviously, the Niners should have covered Johnson with a defensive back instead.
My bad, Jim. I got you next time.
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.