Here are the 49ers grades following their 29-27 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
BEATHARD: B-plus. He played better than anyone could have expected. He was accurate, he passed for 298 yards, completed two touchdown passes, made plays on third down, played most of the game without a running game or left tackle Joe Staley, led the 49ers back from a nine-point deficit and avoided about seven sacks. Beathard did his job. But, the 49ers asked him to do too much. Exposed him too many times to the Chargers defense. So, he threw two picks. The first one wasn’t his fault, and the second one may not have been his fault, either. But someone was bound to make a mistake the more the 49ers passed. Their passing game has been out of sync all season.
RUNNING BACKS: B. Both Matt Breida and Alfred Morris played well, but carried the ball only 13 times combined. And, they rarely ran from an I-formation featuring fullback Kyle Juszczyk as the lead blocker. When he was the lead blocker, the running backs generally ran well. What’s the point of making Juszczyk the highest-paid fullback in the NFL if the 49ers hardly use him as a blocker? So strange.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B-minus. Pierre Garcon and Kendrick Bourne stepped up. Garcon had 52 receiving yards, and Bourne made a touchdown catch in the red zone. The rest of the 49ers receivers didn’t show up. Dante Pettis injured his knee. Trent Taylor was invisible.
TIGHT ENDS: C-minus. George Kittle gets an A-plus. He made an 82-yard touchdown catch, and clearly is the 49ers’ go-to guy in the passing game. Garrett Celek gets an F-minus-minus-minus. He committed two holding penalties (one on special teams), and dropped a pass at the Chargers’ 2-yard line, and tipped that pass to a Chargers defender, who intercepted the ball and returned it to the 49ers 12-yard line. Celek lost the game.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-plus. Joe Staley left the game during the second quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return. Weston Richburg, Mike Person and Mike McGlinchey all played hurt. Give them credit for that.
DEFENSIVE LINE: F-plus. Solomon Thomas did nothing. DeForest Buckner did nothing. Arik Armstead did nothing. Earl Mitchell did nothing. Cassius Marsh did nothing. Ronald Blair did nothing. The only defensive lineman who did something was backup Sheldon Day, who recorded the one sack of the game for the 49ers.
LINEBACKERS: C-minus. Reuben Foster and Fred Warner were the best players on the field for the 49ers defense. They combined to make 17 tackles, and Foster hit Philip Rivers twice. But, Foster also gave the Chargers seven points when he played the wrong coverage in the red zone. He played zone while the rest of the 49ers played man to man. Inexcusable mistake. Warner also gave up a touchdown catch, but he wasn’t at fault. He had to line up in press-man coverage with no safety help and cover a fast running back who was lined up at wide receiver. Warner had no chance. He should have been playing off the line of scrimmage, and should have had safety help. That’s on defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. More on him below.
SAFETIES: C. The 49ers played both of their backup safeties – D.J. Reed and Antone Exum Jr. – and they couldn’t tackle to save their lives. But, Exum intercepted Rivers and returned the ball for a touchdown. He recorded the first and only interception of the season for the 49ers. He gets major credit for that play.
CORNERBACKS: C. At least they kept the Chargers wide receivers out of the end zone. Backup Greg Mabin played particularly well, compared to Ahkello Witherspoon and Jimmie Ward. The latter got benched.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F-plus. The 49ers gave up a 56-yard punt return that led to a field goal just before halftime in a game they lost by two points. Bad. At least Robbie Gould made all of his field-goal attempts, as usual.
COACHES: C. Kyle Shanahan motivated his team to play hard on the road, and made it believe it could win without Jimmy Garoppolo. And it almost won. Shanahan nearly pulled off the most impressive victory of his career as a head coach. But, he didn’t. And he deserves a large portion of the blame for the loss. He called 44 passes and only 14 runs. He scored just one touchdown in his four trips to the red zone. He called just three runs in the red zone. He gave the Chargers three points at the end of the first half when he got cute, called three-straight passes with 47 seconds left, went three-and-out, burned just 17 seconds off the clock and gave the ball back to the Chargers, who kicked a field goal before halftime. He also wasted two timeouts in the second half by challenging the wrong plays. He called five-man protections practically the entire game and almost got Beathard injured. The final five-man protection led to the sack which led to the interception which ended the game. Shanahan also hired defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who is failing. His Seattle-Seahawks style defense is a played-out fad, and the 49ers personnel isn’t suited to run it. The free safety simply isn’t good enough, and neither is the four-man pass rush. After the season, if the 49ers defense continues to struggle, Shanahan should fire Saleh and hire an experienced defensive coordinator. I suggest John Fox.