Here are the 49ers’ grades after their 18-15 road loss to the Cardinals.
QUARTERBACK: C-minus. Brian Hoyer had the yips. He bounced passes to open receivers because he was trying to get the ball out of his hands before someone clocked him. The Cardinals beat him up all game. And when they weren’t beating him up, one his receivers would drop a pass or run the wrong route or fall down. I counted five drops, three miscommunications and two slips by the receivers. Most quarterbacks would have had this yips under these conditions. You can’t pin this loss on Hoyer.
RUNNING BACKS: C-plus. Carlos Hyde averaged a respectable 4.25 yards per carry, but had two very bad plays. First, he missed a block in pass protection, whiffed when the rusher was right in front of him. Then, he fumbled on the first play of overtime and was lucky the Cardinals didn’t recover the ball. The rookie, Matt Breida, averaged only 1.8 yards per carry, but had two very good plays – a beautiful block in pass protection and a touchdown catch which didn’t count because Trent Taylor committed offensive pass interference. More on Taylor below. The fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, had one great play – an eight-yard run on third-and-four during overtime. The running backs were the best position group on the offense.
WIDE RECEIVERS: F. These guys may have been the worst position group on offense. They certainly were in contention. Pierre Garcon was a complete non-factor – Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson took Garcon out of the game. Marquise Goodwin caught one pass and fell trying to catch another before he left with a concussion – his third concussion of the past two seasons. Aldrick Robinson dropped a deep pass along the sideline and ran the wrong route at least three times. And Trent Taylor committed an offensive-pass-interference penalty which was a determining factor in the outcome of the game for the second week in a row. This time, Taylor ran a rub route and set an illegal pick and negated the 49ers only touchdown. Had I called that play, I would have made Garcon run the rub route instead of Taylor. Garcon is a savvy veteran who knows how to run that route and would have gotten the benefit of the doubt from the official.
TIGHT ENDS: F. Garrett Celek committed a false start, Logan Paulsen dropped a deep pass in the red zone and George Kittle dropped a pass after taking his eyes off the ball for the second week in a row. Come to think of it, maybe these guys were the worst position group on the offense.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F. Or maybe the offensive line was the worst position group. I can’t decide. Center Daniel Kilgore gave up a three-yard loss during a run play and committed three penalties (one was declined and one was offsetting). Left guard Laken Tomlinson gave up a sack when he got pushed into Hoyer’s lap. And right guard Brandon Fusco gave up a sack when he couldn’t block a simple stunt – that’s when an outside rusher who loops around and rushes from the inside. Offensive linemen practice blocking that play every day in training camp. Basic stuff. Fusco, Tomlinson and Kilgore won’t be on the team next season. They’re brutal.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A. DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas sacked Carson Palmer once and hit him four times. Thomas’ sack came when he rushed from the inside, which is where he always should rush. I would rush him in the A-gap as a nose tackle, but he’s effective in the B-Gap, too. He never should rush from the edge. That’s Elvis Dumvervil’s domain. He sacked Palmer twice. Dumervil should start from now on, because he’s so much more effective than Arik Armstead, who made no tackles in this game.
LINEBACKERS: A. Ray Ray Armstrong made 10 tackles and intercepted a pass in the end zone, Eli Harold sacked Palmer once and NaVorro Bowman drew a holding penalty while blitzing up the middle. These three helped limit the Cardinals to just 2.3 yards per rush.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B. Rashard Robinson is the weak link here. He committed two penalties just one game after he committed three. He’s a penalty machine and it’s too bad the Niners didn’t draft someone who can replace him at cornerback. Free safety Jimmie Ward committed a critical pass interference at the end of overtime. The game might have ended in a tie had he not made that mistake. But these guys held Palmer in check for most the game. I don’t fault the defensive backs for allowing the Cardinals’ game-winning touchdown drive. I fault Robert Saleh, and I’ll explain why below.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus. Robbie Gould made all five of his field-goal attempts, Bradley Pinion averaged a whopping 50.1 yards per punt and Trent Taylor averaged a solid 10.3 yards per punt return. I downgrade this unit because it committed four of the team’s 13 penalties. As hard as the Niners played, they beat themselves once again.
COACHES: C. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh gets credit for creating effective pressure schemes to exploit the Cardinals weak offensive line. Saleh coached extremely well until the final drive of the game. I don’t understand why he stopped bringing pressure and started calling soft zone coverage during that drive. He allowed the Cardinals to gain 50 yards in just five plays, and he allowed the Cardinals score the game-winning touchdown. On that final play, Saleh called his basic Cover 3 defense. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians called Triple Post, a pass play designed to beat Cover 3. Can’t fault the players for giving up that touchdown catch to Larry Fitzgerald. The coverage scheme gave them no chance to stop him.
I also don’t understand why Kyle Shanahan accepted that holding penalty during overtime after Buckner sacked Palmer. By accepting the penalty, Shanahan gave the Cardinals second-and-20 from the 49ers 35. Had Shanahan declined the penalty, the Cardinals would have faced third-and-15 from the Niners 30. I would have declined the penalty and taken the down from the Cardinals.
I also don’t understand why Shanahan called a run into a safety blitz on first-and-goal from the eight-yard line during overtime. That play had no chance to work, and Hyde lost four yards. I would have called a Sprint Right Option pass away from the safety blitz. That play would have allowed Hoyer to roll out of the pocket and evade pressure.
I also don’t understand why Shanahan didn’t call more three-step drops for Hoyer when pass protection was such an obvious issue. Shanahan kept calling runs and long-developing play-action passes against safety blitzes. Those are not plays you want to call against safety blitzes.
I also don’t understand why Shanahan’s offense failed to score a touchdown for the third time in four games. Chip Kelly’s offense never was this bad. Strange.