Here are the 49ers’ grades after their 26-23 road loss to the Colts.
QUARTERBACK: A. Why do fans and media seem to root against Brian Hoyer? Is it his face? Is it because he’s not Joe Montana? Even when Hoyer plays well, like he did today, people criticize him. And here’s the irony: Those same people would praise his backup, C.J. Beathard, for the exact performance, just because he isn’t Hoyer. Hoyer deserves credit. He was excellent against the Colts, especially during the fourth quarter when he led the 49ers back from a 14-point deficit. During that period, he threw for 170 yards and completed two touchdown passes. He finished the game with a quarterback rating of 101.1. Had tight end George Kittle not dropped a touchdown pass on the opening drive, Hoyer’s QB rating would have been 111.1 and the 49ers would have beaten the Colts. Hoyer is not the 49ers’ problem, and he did not lose this game – the defense did. Stop blaming Hoyer for everything.
RUNNING BACKS: C. Matt Breida gets an “A.” He is a much better fit in this offense than Carlos Hyde, who was awful in this game. Hyde gets an “F-minus.” He gained only 11 yards on eight carries while Breida gained 49 yards on 10 carries. The Niners benched Hyde for long stretches after he dropped yet another a pitch from Hoyer. How many times has Hyde dropped that pitch since the preseason began? Three or four times? He doesn’t look the ball into his hands and he comes downhill way too fast, which increases the velocity of the pitch and makes it difficult to catch. If he were to stretch the play horizontally, as he’s coached to do, and reach his sprint spot, which is three yards outside the tight end, the pitch would seem softer and Hyde wouldn’t have to raise his eyes so fast to find a potential tackler. He wouldn’t be sprinting blindly into the defense – he would be forcing the defense to move laterally, which could create cut-back lanes. The Niners should trade Hyde before he shuts himself down with an injury.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A. No one on the Colts could cover Pierre Garcon. He was outstanding. The Niners should have called more plays for him, but didn’t for some reason. More on that below. Marquise Goodwin was outstanding, too. He deserves credit for his excellent 51-yard catch. Instead of waiting for the ball and trying to catch it over his shoulder as he would have done earlier this season, he jumped and grabbed the ball above the Colts defenders. He’s learning. Great to see.
TIGHT ENDS: B. George Kittle became Hoyer’s go-to receiver in the fourth quarter, catching five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown during that period. Kittle also drew a 22-yard pass-interference penalty during overtime. But his drop in the end zone during the 49ers’ first drive may have cost the team the game. That was his third drop since Week 3.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C. This unit gave up two sacks, but only five or six hits on Hoyer – I’ll have to check the coaches film in a few days to see exactly how many hits the OL gave up. When this unit keeps Hoyer relatively clean, Hoyer is more than functional. Unfortunately, left guard Laken Tomlinson committed a holding penalty at midfield during overtime, which killed the 49ers’ best chance to win the game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: F. Arik Armstead lost the game during overtime. He’s supposed to be a run-stopping specialist, and he’s supposed to set the edge, meaning he’s supposed to force running backs to cut back toward the middle of the field. But in overtime, he blindly rushed up field and allowed Colts backup running back Marlon Mack to bounce to the outside and run 35 yards untouched. When the 49ers finally tackled him, he was in field-goal range. The Niners should bench Armstead and make Elvis Dumervil a starter. Dumervil is a much better pass rusher, and couldn’t possibly be worse defending the run than Armstead.
LINEBACKERS: D. It’s painful to watch NaVorro Bowman try to change directions or run across the field to chase someone down near the sideline. The coaching staff finally benched him because he can’t do either of things. When Reuben Foster returns from his injury next week or the week after, Bowman should stay on the bench and Ray Ray Armstrong should start. Armstrong intercepted a pass in the end zone for the second game in a row.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: C. These guys gave up a lot of yards – mostly to T.Y. Hilton. But they didn’t give up any points. The Colts scored both of their touchdowns on the ground. So I won’t give this group a failing grade.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Robbie Gould still hasn’t missed a field goal this season. He is the 49ers’ M.V.P.
COACHES: D. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh gets credit for benching Bowman, but Saleh should have benched Armstead, too. And Saleh should have had a better plan to defend T.Y. Hilton. The Seahawks limited him to just three catches for 30 yards last week, and they run the exact same defense Saleh runs. Saleh should have copied the Seahawks game plan.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan gets credit for benching Hyde, and for making Kittle a legitimate weapon in the second half, and for the first drive of the game, which was beautiful. But I don’t understand why Shanahan couldn’t get the ball to Pierre Garcon more than three times after that opening drive. Shanahan should have fed Garcon the ball until he dropped from exhaustion or the Colts double covered him. Shanahan let the Colts off the hook. That’s bad coaching.
The 49ers continue to lose games by three points or fewer, because they can’t finish. And they continue to lead the NFL in drops and penalties – they committed another 10 penalties against the Colts. They would be 4-1 if they were focused and disciplined. But they’re sloppy and winless. That’s on Shanahan. That’s bad coaching.