Here are the 49ers’ grades after their 12-9 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
QUARTERBACK: F. Statistically one of the worst performances we’ve seen from a 49ers quarterback in a long time. Brian Hoyer threw no touchdown passes, one interception, completed just 56 percent of his passes and threw for a mere 99 yards. Ugh! Instead of signing Hoyer, the Niners should have signed Jay Cutler, as I wrote during the offseason. Cutler led the Dolphins to a win over the Chargers today and posted a quarterback rating of 101.8.
RUNNING BACKS: A. Carlos Hyde was the best player on the offense for the second game in a row. He gained 124 yards on 15 carries, and another 19 yards on three catches. His backup, Matt Breida, played well, too. He gained 35 yards on four carries and caught one pass for three yards. He deserved more than five touches – he’s one of the Niners’ most dangerous weapons. Why not line up him at wide receiver and send him deep? Or line him up in the backfield and make him run a wheel route up the sideline? Be creative.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D. Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin each caught three passes for 26 yards. Garcon was an afterthought in the game plan. He didn’t touch the ball until the second quarter. Bill Walsh always made sure Jerry Rice touched the ball in the first quarter so he’d get in the flow of the game. Kyle Shanahan seemed more interested in getting the ball to Marquise Goodwin, who led the offense with six targets. Just like last week, Goodwin dropped a critical pass. This time, he was open at the Seahawks 10-yard line and possibly could have scored a touchdown had he not taken his eyes off the ball. He’s a track star pretending to be a wide receiver. The 49ers should have kept Jeremy Kerley.
TIGHT ENDS: Incomplete. I expected the 49ers would feature George Kittle in the passing game, but they didn’t. Hoyer threw Kittle two short passes and he caught both of them. I can’t fault Kittle for not producing more — the Niners didn’t give him opportunities to be a factor. They should have thrown at least one deep ball to him.
OFFNENSIVE LINE: B. These five players faced an excellent defensive line, and allowed just two sacks and committed only one holding penalty. One of the sacks was Hoyer’s fault because he held the ball too long. The other sack was a miscommunication after Hoyer tried to change the play at the line of scrimmage and the left side of the offensive line couldn’t hear him. The line blocked especially well in the run game, particularly on inside-zone run plays, just like last week. Laken Tomlinson was a significant upgrade over Zane Beadles at left guard.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-plus. Every defensive lineman played well until the fourth quarter. Aaron Lynch and Tank Carradine both sacked Russell Wilson once and hit him twice, Arik Armstead sacked Wilson once, Solomon Thomas hit Wilson once and DeForest Buckner hit Wilson three times. But at the end of the game, none of the 49ers D-linemen could contain Wilson in the pocket – he rushed for 27 yards on the Seahawks’ game-winning touchdown drive. Had the defense forced Wilson to stay in the pocket, the game probably would have gone to overtime.
LINEBACKERS: C. NaVorro Bowman finished the game with 10 tackles. He was solid. Ray Ray Armstrong was exposed for what he is – a backup playing as a starter. Every time the Seahawks ran the read option, he forgot his assignment, which was to contain Wilson and force him to hand the ball off. Armstrong kept drifting toward the running back and allowing Wilson to run for long gains. Armstrong also committed an egregious penalty when he hit Seahawks wide receiver Paul Richardson out of bounds. Not smart.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B. Eric Reid injured his left knee in the second quarter and missed most of the second half. He still finished the game with seven tackles. His replacement, Jimmie Ward, had five tackles. And Jaquiski Tartt, who started at free safety and moved to strong safety when Reid got injured, had five tackles, too. All three Niners safeties are good players. But the Niners cornerbacks are mediocre. Dontae Johnson committed a 20-yard pass interference penalty, and Rashard Robinson gave up the game-winning touchdown catch to Paul Richardson.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Robbie Gould made all three of his field-goal attempts, punter Bradley Pinion pinned the Seahawks offense inside their 20-yard line four times and Trent Taylor averaged 13.3 yards per punt return. This is a good unit.
COACHES: C. I’ll start with the defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh. He was the 49ers’ best coach for the second game in a row. His defense played well until it ran out of gas and Saleh ran out of changeups to slow down the Seahawks run game. Saleh should have had more than just one way to spy Wilson. Saleh used to coach for the Seahawks – he should know how important it is to keep Wilson in the pocket.
Now, let’s discuss the head coach Kyle Shanahan. He did certain things well. He made his team play cleaner than it did last week, which was one of my five keys to the game. The 49ers committed only six penalties against the Seahawks. Shanahan also made the correct adjustments in the run game. First, he featured the inside-zone play, which suits his personnel. The Niners ran that play 11 times for 126 yards. And when Shanahan called the outside-zone play, he always called it to go away from Seahawks defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, which was another one of my keys to the game.
But Shanahan’s pass offense was beyond comprehension. He didn’t call a single pass that traveled more than 18 yards downfield, and he called just two passes that traveled more than 10 yards downfield.
Shanahan called only short, quick passes, presumably because he thought pass protection was an issue. But if it was such a major concern, why did he go with an empty backfield so often on third down? Had he kept an extra player in to block, he wouldn’t have had to call two-yard passes on third-and-8, passes which had virtually no chance to make the first down. Shanahan ran the same rub pattern at least five times on third down and none of those patterns resulted in a first down. The Niners converted just two third downs all game.
The Niners’ next game will be Thursday night against the Rams. Their defensive coordinator, Wade Philips, will smother this abysmal passing offense unless Shanahan makes major changes to it. Let’s see what he’s got.