Here are the 49ers’ grades after their 24-16 road loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
GAROPPOLO: D-minus. He was up against the best defense in the NFC, on the road, without his No. 1 running back (Jerick McKinnon), No. 1 receiver (Marquise Goodwin), starting right guard (Mike Person), backup right guard (Joshua Garnett), and on top of all that, four of his teammates dropped passes. Still, Garoppolo threw a touchdown pass and averaged a whopping 7.9 yards per throw. He gave the 49ers a chance to win. But, he also threw three interceptions, and two were his fault. The final pick put the nail in the coffin: With the game on the line, Garoppolo threw a careless pass over the middle into triple coverage where no one was open. Inexcusable. Garoppolo also struggled in the red zone, where he over threw George Kittle, who was open in the end zone. Since Garoppolo became the starting quarterback last season, red-zone efficiency and interceptions have been two issues for the 49ers. Through six starts with San Francisco, he has thrown eight interceptions. Today, his quarterback rating was miserable – 45.1.
RUNNING BACKS: D. Alfred Morris and Matt Breida split carries and averaged merely 3.7 yards per carry. Neither was a factor in the passing game or the red zone, and Morris fumbled at the one-yard line. The Niners sure could have used Jerick McKinnon. His season-ending injury hurt the entire offense.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D. Marquise Goodwin injured his quad in the first half and missed most of the game. He caught no passes. Pierre Garcon caught just two passes for 21 yards. Non-factor. And Kendrick Bourne caused a pick-six by running the wrong route. He should have made a “sight adjustment” and ran a slant when the Vikings blitzed from his side – that’s what Garoppolo expected Bourne to do. That was Bourne’s job. But, he didn’t adjust his route, and Garoppolo got picked. Bourne shouldn’t have been active for this game. Richie James is better. The 49ers best receivers Sunday were Trent Taylor, who caught four passes for 28 yards, and rookie Dante Pettis. He made two catches, and both were big plays – a 22-yard touchdown catch in the end zone, and a 39-yard catch in the middle of the field.
TIGHT ENDS: C-plus. George Kittle almost had a fantastic game. He caught five passes for 90 yards, and would have caught six passes for 94 yards and a touchdown had Garoppolo not overthrown him in the red zone. But, Kittle seriously hurt the 49ers’ chances of winning by dropping what should have been a long catch catch during the second quarter. On the next play, Garoppolo threw a pick-six.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D. The 49ers came into the game with two right guards – Person and Garnett. Both got hurt in the first half. The 49ers had to move rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey to right guard and play backup Garry Gilliam at right tackle. So, it’s no wonder this group struggled. It created little room to run, and allowed nine quarterback hits and three sacks. Left guard Laken Tomlinson was responsible for one. He was late to slide to his left, strong safety Harrison Smith ran past and clobbered Garoppolo.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-minus. DeForest Buckner was great – he recorded 2.5 sacks. The rest of the defensive line played well against the run, but not against the pass. Buckner remains the only threat to hit the quarterback. Designated pass-rusher Cassius Marsh never touched Kirk Cousins. And Solomon Thomas made an egregious mental error when he jumped offside on fourth-and-1 late in the game.
LINEBACKERS: A-plus. Fred Warner played better than Reuben Foster ever played last season, and Foster played well. Warner was outstanding. He recorded 12 tackles and forced the 49ers only turnover, when he chased down Vikings starting running back Dalvin Cook from behind and stripped him. Warner is a playmaker.
SAFETIES: C-minus. Both Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt played well against the run. Tartt even recorded a tackle for loss. But, he also gave up a touchdown catch to tight end Kyle Rudolph in the red zone. Rudolph ran a classic “Stick Nod” route – out and quickly up. Tartt ran with him but never turned his head to find the ball. Colbert’s mistake was less obvious. During the Vikings third series, Cook made a 17-yard catch out of the backfield on third-and-3 when the 49ers blitzed. Colbert was supposed to cover Cook on that play. Missed assignment. The Vikings scored a touchdown later during that drive.
CORNERBACKS: C-minus. Richard Sherman played well and the Vikings hardly tested him. But, Ahkello Witherspoon gave up a 22-yard touchdown catch to Stefon Diggs, and never turned to find the ball, just like Tartt. And K’Waun Williams gave up a 19-yard catch to Adam Theilen on third-and-five, because Williams didn’t cover the flat as he should have in the 49ers Cover 3 defense. Missed assignment No. 2. A few plays later, the Vikings scored another touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Robbie Gould made all three of his field goals, and Dante Pettis returned one punt for 14 yards. Impressive.
COACHES: C. Kyle Shanahan’s team hung tough on the road in an early game against a killer team, and were in it until almost one minute left. He gets big credit for that. He also shares blame for the loss, because the 49ers lost this game in the red zone. The offense made four trips inside the 20-yard line and scored only one touchdown. The 49ers had chances to win and wasted them. Red-zone offense has been an issue since before Garoppolo was the quarterback. So, he probably isn’t the issue – Shanahan’s scheme is. The outside-zone running play doesn’t work well when the safeties line up so close to the line of scrimmage in the red zone. The field is so compact down there, it’s hard to “stretch” the defense, which is the goal of the outside zone. Shanahan has to honestly examine his own performance in the red zone. Will he?