Here are the grades for the 49ers’ 27-46 Week 2 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
QUARTERBACK: D-. Blaine Gabbert completed just 47 percent of his passes, averaged just 6.8 yards per throw and compiled a pathetic passer rating of 64.9 even though he had forever in the pocket to throw. And his numbers would have been even worse if the Panthers’ hadn’t turned the ball over four times. Gabbert managed to score two touchdowns off those turnovers. Despite the touchdowns, fans probably would have been begging for the coaching staff to replace Gabbert with Colin Kaepernick had the game been at Levi’s Stadium.
RUNNING BACKS: D. Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn weren’t as bad as their numbers. Those backs averaged only 2.4 yards per carry, but they had zero room to run – the Panthers’ defense played at least eight men in the box most of the game. I primarily downgrade this group for Carlos Hyde’s first-quarter fumble which the Panthers returned for a touchdown.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D+. Torrey Smith beat rookie cornerback James Bradberry early in the game for a 28-yard touchdown pass, but Bradberry won the matchup overall, breaking up a pass and intercepting another intended for Smith in the second half. The Niners other receivers combined to gain just 67 receiving yards total. Quinton Patton’s best play was a block during Vance McDonald’s touchdown. And Jeremy Kerley was a non-factor.
TIGHT ENDS: B-. Vance McDonald had the play of a game for the 49ers’ offense with a 75-yard catch-and-run to cut the deficit to seven points during the fourth quarter. But that was the only pass McDonald caught, and he dropped a deep pass a few minutes later. Garrett Celek and Blake Bell were non-factors.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B. Provided fantastic pass protection most of the game. Couldn’t create running room against the Panthers’ jam-packed defensive front, but I don’t blame the offensive line for that. Chip Kelly needed to vary his runs and call more downfield passes to get the Panthers to back off the line of scrimmage. More on Kelly and the coaches below.
DEFENSIVE LINE: F. Gave up 100 rushing yards to Fozzy Freaking Whitaker and 176 rushing yards overall. Also hit quarterback Cam Newton exactly no times. Rookie first-round pick DeForest Buckner was invisible most of the game.
LINEBACKERS: D. Shared responsibility with the defensive line for the terrible run defense and non-existent pass rush. But I give this group a higher grade than the D-line because Ray Ray Armstrong and Gerald Hodges both forced fumbles which the 49ers recovered.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D-. Jimmie Ward was the worst cornerback on the field. He gave up seven catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns. The other starting corner, Tramaine Brock, gave up two long catches to Ted Ginn Jr., but only the second one counted because Ginn Jr. failed to land both his feet in bounds the first time. Rashard Robinson, the rookie fourth-round pick who weighs 177 pounds, knocked himself out of the game simply by running into Kelvin Benjamin. Good draft pick.
The worst player in the game might have been safety Antoine Bethea, who looked old and slow. He gave up two touchdown catches, including a 75-yarder to tight end Greg Olsen.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C. Shaun Draughn recovered a kickoff that bounced off Ginn Jr.’s ankle, but the kickoff-coverage team gave up a 59-yard kick return to Ginn Jr. a few minutes later.
COACHES: F. Chip Kelly, supposedly an offensive innovator, ran the same inside-zone-read running play all afternoon and the play never worked. Instead of making an adjustment, Kelly stuck with his vanilla game plan and the offense averaged just 2.5 yards per carry and a putrid 4.7 yards per play. Last season the Niners averaged 5.0 yards per play under offensive coordinator Geep Chryst. Marinate on that.
On defense, coordinator Jim O’Neil clearly didn’t prepare his players to face Panthers’ backup running back Fozzy Whitaker, who became the starter after Jonathan Stewart left with an injured hamstring. Whitaker averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
O’Neil also failed to generate any pressure with his “exotic rushes,” which were so effective last week against Case Keenum and the Rams. I guess we see why they were so effective. The Rams are bad.
Finally, O’Neil overexposed his corners all game, which Rex-Ryan disciples tend to do. During the third quarter, O’Neil made Ward shadow Benjamin, an absurd assignment that led to two quick touchdowns for Carolina. Memo to Jim: Ward can’t cover big wide receivers. We learned that two years ago when he gave up three touchdowns to Brandon Marshall. O’Neil must have missed that game. I guess we know why he got fired by the Browns.
Despite a brand-new coaching staff for the 49ers, this season so far has been pretty much the same as last season.