The LA Rams just beat the 49ers 48-32. Here are the 49ers’ grades:
NICK MULLENS: B-PLUS. Threw for 282 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions almost a year to the day after Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 292 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Rams backups. And yet, people still say Garoppolo is vastly superior to Mullens. I say they’re roughly even and both have lots to learn.
Despite what you may think of Garoppolo, he would not have won this game – he would have struggled early for the same reasons Mullens did. Mullens had no protection. He threw one interception because his arm got tipped. Not his fault. He threw another interception as he got hit in the chest, an interception that was an accurate jump ball intended for tight end George Kittle, who has a 38.5-inch vertical leap. But, Kittle couldn’t outjump strong safety John Johnson for the ball. Again, not Mullens’ fault. He gave his playmaker a chance to make a play.
The third interception was 100-percent on Mullens – he forced a pass over the middle to Richie James, and the Rams returned the interception for a touchdown. Mullens was pressing, but he settled down and played well the rest of the game. Did not quit, as his defense did. Threw three touchdown passes and led the offense to 32 points. Mullens vastly outperformed the No. 1 quarterback on the trade market, Teddy Bridgewater, who today threw for 118 yards in a loss to the Carolina Panthers. Some team will want Mullens this offseason, and may offer the 49ers a second-round pick to get him. Will the 49ers accept?
RUNNING BACKS: B. Jeff Wilson Jr. injured his shoulder on his second carry of the game, and did not return. Alfred Morris replaced him, and rushed 16 times for 111 yards (6.9 per attempt) and one touchdown. Morris was the offense’s most valuable player today. The offense could not have functioned without him – he was the only healthy running back. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk carried the ball twice and fumbled once. Some “offensive weapon.”
WIDE RECEIVERS: B-PLUS. Kendrick Bourne caught five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. He had the best game of his career. He’s intriguing because he’s young, he makes jumping catches over defensive backs and he’s the 49ers’ best weapon in the red zone. This season, he got 12 red-zone targets, caught nine red-zone passes and scored four red-zone touchdowns. Kyle Shanahan should have given Bourne more opportunities in that area of the field. Ditto for Richie James, who caught a nine-yard touchdown pass today. Both he and Bourne flashed promise for the future. Slot receiver Trent Taylor did not. He caught three short passes and picked up zero first downs. The 49ers need a new slot receiver.
TIGHT ENDS: A-MINUS. George Kittle caught nine passes for 149 yards and one touchdown. He put up great numbers and helped lots of fantasy football players win lots of fantasy football games. But, as usual, he didn’t help the 49ers win a real game. He is the physical embodiment of all Kyle Shanahan’s faults: lots of yards; minimal points and wins.
Kittle finished the season with just five touchdown catches. He has seven total during his career. And he’s not a threat in the red zone. In 2018, the 49ers targeted him 22 times in the red zone – he caught just 12 passes and scored only two touchdowns. Today, he dropped a pass in the end zone, and allowed another one to get tipped to the Rams for an interception.
But, he did set the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end – a terrific accomplishment. One he could have celebrated after the game or the next day. Instead, he celebrated on the sideline during a blowout loss. Posed and smiled for a picture with teammates and assistant head coach Jon Embree while the 49ers defense was on the field. You would have thought the 49ers were winning. Terrible look for Kittle, Embree and Kyle Shanahan. Any self-respecting head coach would have slapped the camera away and screamed at Kittle in front of everyone. That’s how to change a culture of losing, which is what the 49ers have. Bill Walsh understood that. Even a terrible head coach like Mike Singletary understood that basic truth.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: F. Mike McGlinchey looked like a stiff for the third week in a row. He does not seem ready to play left tackle next season. Laken Tomlinson suffered a knee injury – the 49ers may need to replace him this season. And they definitely need to replace center Weston Richburg and right guard Mike Person as well. They can’t hold their ground against NFL defensive linemen. The 49ers must overhaul their interior O-line this offseason if they expect Garoppolo to stay healthy and play well in 2019.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: F. Never sacked Jared Goff and touched him only twice all game. Couldn’t set the edge against the run. Quit midway through second quarter. DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas made no impact, and Cassius Marsh almost seemed like he was playing for the Rams. He created superhighways for their running backs.
LINEBACKERS: C-MINUS. Fred Warner and Elijah Lee combined to make 24 tackles, but too often got knocked back and dragged for extra yards. Both need to get stronger this offseason.
SAFETIES: F. Marcell Harris was lost in pass coverage all game, and gave up two touchdown catches. Antone Exum Jr. gave up one touchdown when he missed a tackle and hit a teammate. The 49ers still need safeties. What don’t the 49ers need?
CORNERBACKS: D-MINUS. Either Richard Sherman quit at halftime or the coaching staff told him not to play. Either way, a real leader would have stayed on the field with his teammates, as Fred Warner did. I never want to hear another person call Sherman a leader of this team. He’s all about himself. After he left the game, his replacement, Greg Mabin, gave up a touchdown catch to backup slot receiver Josh Reynolds.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Robbie Gould was perfect and Bradley Pinion kicked one punt that landed inside the Rams 20-yard line.
COACHES: F. The 49ers played played three good games in a row at home and seemed to show growth. Then, they went on the road, got blown out and showed they haven’t grown one bit. The 49ers are the same undisciplined, unprepared team they always have been under Kyle Shanahan. The same awful team that got blown out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just a month ago.
The 49ers should be better. They have talent, as they showed during the past three home games. But, they’re poorly coached. That’s why their road record this season was 0-8. Poorly coached teams always seem unprepared on the road.
Shanahan didn’t have his offense prepared to face the Rams. His players couldn’t execute even the simplest plays until late in the second quarter. You would have thought they didn’t practice last week. And when the offense finally figured things out, the defense already had quit. Shanahan didn’t seem to mind. All he seemed to care about was Kittle’s record.
Shanahan may improve one day. But against the Rams, the 49ers could have used a real head coach. A leader. Not a mannequin with a headset.