ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys handed the 49ers a 28-17 win Sunday evening. Here are the 49ers’ grades.
KAEPERNICK: A. Efficient. Completed 70 percent of his passes, averaged 8.7 yards per pass attempt, threw two touchdown passes and zero interceptions and converted 7-of-12 third downs. He found his receivers when they were wide open and he made some terrific throws while taking big hits.
RUNNING BACKS: B. LaMichael James was awful. Frank Gore looked terrific on his first run, bursting through the line for a 20-yard gain. He looked sluggish after that, gaining only 46 yards on 15 carries – 3.1 yards per attempt. A bad Cowboys’ front-seven mostly shut him down, although he didn’t get much help from his blockers. Carlos Hyde didn’t get much blocking help, either, but he gained 50 yards on 7 carries – 7.1 yards per attempt. Hyde was powerful, quick, explosive, and he had great vision, quickly spotting cutback lanes. He had some of his biggest gainers when he was paired up with Kaepernick in the zone read scheme. The opposing defensive end had to sit there and honor Kaepernick as a potential keeper on the option. Hyde was able to bend back the cut into a void because if the DE squeezed the hole, he would have allowed Kaepernick to potentially run around the end. Hyde may be the most talented Big 10 running back since Eddie George. Hyde clearly is the best running back on the 49ers right now. He should become the starter sooner rather than later.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A. The Cowboys kept letting Boldin run free and he killed them, catching eight passes on nine targets for 99 yards. It was like the Cowboys gave the 49ers a free 10 yards any time Kaepernick threw to Boldin. The Cowboys didn’t do much better covering the other receivers. Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson each caught two passes.
TIGHT ENDS: A. Vernon Davis caught two touchdown passes and put the game away early. He also dropped a pass, which knocks his grade down from an A+ to a measly A.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-. Gave up too much pressure and didn’t generate much push against a bad defensive line. Mike Iupati gave up a sack. Joe Staley and Joe Looney were flagged for holding. Daniel Kilgore committed a hold too but the refs didn’t see it. Alex Boone and Anthony Davis didn’t play.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-. Gave up 5.5 yards per carry. DeMarco Murray consistently got to the “second level” of the 49ers’ defense, past the D-line. When it came to rushing the passer, Justin Smith was the only D-linemen who generated any pressure. He sacked Tony Romo twice – once when Smith was unblocked, and once when Smith looped around on a stunt.
LINEBACKERS: B. These guys were complicit in the 49ers’ poor run defense. But they played well against the pass. Patrick Willis made a nice interception in the end zone.Jason Witten caught just two passes for 14 yards. And Ahmad Brooks sacked Romo twice. Brooks also committed three penalties and missed a tackle. Corey Lemonier was ineffective as a pass rusher. Aaron Lynch was better. He knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
SECONDARY: A-. They gave up completions on 62 percent of Romo’s passes and allowed 7.6 yards per pass attempt. But the starting cornerbacks, Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver, left the game in the first quarter with injuries – Brock hurt his toe and Culliver sustained a concussion. Before Culliver got hurt, he recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown on the third play of the game. The backups – Perrish Cox and Dontae Johnson – played well for the most part. Cox made a beautiful interception on a deep pass, and Dontae Johnson broke up two passes, a team high. Johnson might just Wally-Pipp Culliver. Eric Reid also intercepted a pass, and Antoine Bethea broke up one in the end zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-. Phil Dawson missed a gimme 37-yard field goal attempt, and the kickoff coverage team allowed 29 yards per kickoff return. Andy Lee was good, though. He pinned the Cowboys inside their 15-yard line three times.
COACHING: A. The coaches didn’t have to do much, didn’t have to outsmart the Cowboys. All they had to do was sit back and let the Cowboys beat themselves. The read-option portion of the offensive game plan didn’t work for Kaepernick — he gained just 11 yards on 5 carries. Oh well. Every time Kaepernick dropped back it seemed like there was a 49er receiver completely uncovered. Good play design by the 49ers, awful coverage by the Cowboys. And when the 49ers had a big lead, the coaches closed out the game well, calling run after run after run. The 49ers would have won by more than two touchdowns if not for some ticky-tack penalty calls on the 49ers’ defense in the second half.