The 49ers beat the Buccaneers 31-17 Sunday in Tampa. Here are the 49ers’ grades:
QUARTERBACK: B. Jimmy Garoppolo’s numbers weren’t good. He averaged just 6.2 yards per pass. His quarterback rating was 80.2. He threw one touchdown pass and one pick six, meaning he scored seven points for the 49ers and the Bucs. But, after he threw the pick six, he settled down. Protected the ball. Didn’t take sacks or unnecessary risks. Managed a difficult cross-country road game like a veteran quarterback and allowed the Bucs to beat themselves. This performance was one of Garoppolo’s most mature yet, because he muted himself for the betterment of the team. His career win-loss record now is 9-2. Remarkable.
RUNNING BACKS: C. Collectively, they averaged 3.3 yards per carry, which is not so good, but they had very little space to run. Matt Breida rushed 15 times for just 37 yards. Tevin Coleman, the 49ers big offensive free-agent signing this offseason, rushed six times for 23 yards before leaving the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. The 49ers’ most successful running back was third-stringer Raheem Mostert, who rushed nine times for 40 yards. He ran harder and faster than Breida and Coleman.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C-minus. The 49ers’ leading wide receiver was Richie James Jr., who caught one pass for 39 yards. He didn’t even start. The starters were Marquise Goodwin, who caught one pass for seven yards, and rookie Deebo Samuel, who caught three passes for 17 yards and fumbled and committed a false start. Not the best debut. Dante Pettis, who started seven games last season and struggled big-time during training camp, hardly played. He was the fifth wide receiver on the depth chart. The 49ers still are searching for a wide receiver to complement Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle. Maybe James Jr. will become that wide receiver. He deserves more passes.
TIGHT ENDS: A. George Kittle made eight catches for 54 yards. Kittle led the NFL in yards after the catch last season, and the Buccaneers took those YAC yards away from Kittle, but he still managed to make crucial catches in traffic and move the chains. Levine Toilolo and Ross Dwelley, the backups, played in spurts and helped the running game with their blocking.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-plus. They didn’t create many holes for the running backs, but they protected Garoppolo, who played his first real game since tearing his ACL last October. Garoppolo got sacked just once, and the sack wasn’t the offensive line’s fault – the design of the 49ers’ play left a Bucs defender totally unblocked. Center Weston Richburg played well after missing the entire offseason with a quad injury. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey struggled, though, as he committed two penalties.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-plus. Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have transformed this defense. Last season, the 49ers gave up a 108.7 passer rating on the road. Sunday, they gave up just a 45.4 passer rating on the road, largely because of Bosa and Ford. Bosa recorded one sack and Ford forced a fumble. Adding them to a defensive line that already had DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead has improved the pass rush, and the pass rush has improved the entire pass defense. This position group clearly is the strength of the team.
LINEBACKERS: B-plus. Fred Warner forced a fumble and Mark Nzeocha recorded an interception. Both defended the pass well. Kwon Alexander, one of the 49ers’ big defensive free-agent additions this offseason, played well against the run and pass during the first quarter before he got ejected for committing a helmet-to-helmet hit. This group gets downgraded because the defense gave up a whopping 4.7 yards per carry. The 49ers’ “Wide 9” defensive alignment spreads out the defensive line and puts pressure on the linebackers to plug holes and stop runs. Alexander should help them plug holes in the future.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-plus. Richard Sherman had a pick-six. Ahkello Witherspoon had a pick six, too, and arguably was the 49ers’ best cornerback, even better than Sherman. Witherspoon broke up three passes. Sherman broke up two and committed three penalties (the Bucs decline one of them). Backup free safety Tarvarius Moore, who started in place of Jimmie Ward because Ward broke his finger last week, knocked down a potential touchdown pass in the end zone and nearly intercepted it. The 49ers may have a dominant defense for the first time since Vic Fangio was their defensive coordinator in 2014.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Mark Nzeocha blocked a punt deep in the Bucs’ territory and put the 49ers’ in field-goal range. Rookie punter Mitch Wishnowsky averaged a respectable 45.5 yards per punt. And Robbie Gould made three of four field-goal attempts. He missed a 57-yarder. No shame in that.
COACHES: A-minus. In certain ways, the 49ers had the same issues from the last two seasons: They were sloppy (11 penalties), they struggled on third down (5 for 13) and they never scored a touchdown in the red zone (0 for 3). And yet, Kyle Shanahan still found a way to win on the road – no small feat for a 49ers head coach during the Jed York era. The only 49ers head coach to have a winning record on the road since 2002 is Jim Harbaugh. Now, Shanahan is 1-0 on the road this season.
He did make one questionable decision, though: With 2:42 left in the third quarter and the 49ers leading 20-14, Shanahan chose to attempt a 57-yard field goal instead of punting the ball, pinning the Bucs deep in their territory and trusting his defense, which was playing well. Gould missed the field goal off the cross bar, which meant Shanahan gave the Buccaneers momentum and the ball with great field position.
Fortunately for Shanahan, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh bailed him out. The Bucs drove the ball to the 49ers’ two-yard line. And on fourth-and-goal from the two, Tarvarius Moore broke up the potential go-ahead touchdown pass to Chris Godwin. Saleh was the coach of the game. Give Shanahan credit for sticking with Saleh even though the 49ers defense didn’t play well the past two seasons. Saleh clearly has improved and evolved, and the 49ers have what may be a dominant defense. Give Shanahan credit for all of that.
49ers-Bucs postgame show. https://t.co/dw85hQm7Uk
— Grant Cohn (@grantcohn) September 9, 2019