SANTA CLARA – Here are the 49ers’ grades after their 34-13 win over the LA Rams Junior Varsity team.
QUARTERBACK: B. Jimmy Garoppolo had one of the worst starts of his young career, but still played well enough to win by three touchdowns. He began the game by leading back-to-back scoring drives, completing six-of-nine passes for 100 yards and one touchdown, and posting a quarterback rating of 141. After those first 15 plays – the ones coaches script and players walk through during the week – Garoppolo completed just 14 of 24 passes (58 percent) for 192 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, and posted a quarterback rating of 63.2. Strange that he would play so poorly once the coaches went off script. He threw his first interception on the third possession of the game. Forced a pass over the middle into heavy coverage. Then, did the same thing during the second quarter and got intercepted again. Garoppolo tends to throw at least one pass up for grabs every game. Weird. The more he plays, the more he reminds me of Tony Romo – an accurate, mobile quarterback with a quick release who made bad decisions. Here’s the difference: Romo threw great deep passes. Garoppolo hasn’t shown he can do that yet. Brady Quinn said during the broadcast that Garoppolo has completed just three of 14 passes (21 percent) longer than 20 yards with the 49ers. Deep passes could be an issue for Garoppolo next season, unless he keeps winning every game he plays. In that case, I probably wouldn’t sweat the deep stuff.
RUNNING BACKS: A-minus. Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida seemed to be competing for next year’s starting job. They split carries 50-50 most of the game. And both averaged six yards per rush. Both ran well. Hyde was better in the red zone – he scored two touchdowns. Breida was better as a receiver – he caught a 32-yard pass. But, Breida won the competition, because Hyde fumbled during the fourth quarter. I expect Breida will be the starting running back when the offseason workout program begins, and Hyde will be on another team.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C. Marquise Goodwin caught a touchdown pass before leaving the game with the fourth concussion of his career. He had a mini-seizure on the field. I hope he’s OK. Aldrick Robinson caught a touchdown pass in the red zone and Kendrick Bourne caught a 16-yard pass on third-and-10. Both players made cases that they belong on the team next season. If the 49ers keep only one of them, I expect they will keep Bourne. He’s seven years younger than Robinson, and similar athletically to a receiver Kyle Shanahan coached in Atlanta – Mohamed Sanu. Robinson is just a backup.
TIGHT ENDS: A. George Kittle caught four passes for 100 yards in the first half. He was Garoppolo’s go-to guy. Kittle seems like he will be a productive starter for the 49ers next season. I expect his workload will increase, and I doubt the 49ers will sign a big-name tight end like Jimmy Graham during the offseason. Graham would inhibit Kittle’s growth.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A. Gave up no sacks, no quarterback hits and helped the offense average 5.7 yards per carry. Not bad.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-minus. Elvis Dumervil, Cassius Marsh and Sheldon Day each sacked Rams backup quarterback Sean Mannion once. Marsh and Day both played very well. The Niners should bring them back next season. They’re better pass rushers right now than first-round draft pick Solomon Thomas, who couldn’t beat any of the Rams backup offensive linemen today. Yikes. To his credit, he hustled and recovered a fumble.
LINEBACKERS: A-minus. Brock Coyle led the team in tackles for the second game in a row. The 49ers should re-sign him. He may be a better player than Malcolm Smith, who is scheduled to start at weak side linebacker next season. Reuben Foster suffered a stinger for the third week in a row and left the game. He missed all or part of 12 games this season. Do we sense a pattern?
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B-plus. The Rams targeted Ahkello Witherspoon four times during the final 1:13 of the first half, and he gave up three catches for 95 yards. He’s an intriguing young player who still has much to prove before the 49ers consider him part of their foundation on defense. Against the Rams, he was the weak link in the secondary. Dontae Johnson was solid and both safeties played well. Adrian Colbert forced a fumble, broke up a pass in the end zone and should have broken up a pass along the sideline, too, but the officials said the receiver caught the ball. He didn’t. The receiver lost control of the ball as he hit the ground. Colbert should start at free safety next season. And Eric Reid should start at strong safety. He made six tackles and broke up a pass. He’s better than Jaquiski Tartt, who would replace Reid if Reid leaves during free agency.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Robbie Gould was two for two kicking field goals, and Trent Taylor averaged 10.7 yards per punt return. Good numbers.
COACHES: A-minus. Kyle Shanahan’s 15-play script to start the game was one of his most creative all season. The 15th play in particular was brilliant – a fake reverse by Marquise Goodwin, who turned around in the backfield, caught a pass in the flat and scored. I’ve never seen that play. The Niners should run it more often. After Goodwin’s touchdown, the 49ers scored only 10 points during the next 23 minutes and 42 seconds. I didn’t think the offense would struggle for such a long stretch against mostly backup defensive players. But the Rams eventually quit, and the 49ers blew them out. Congratulations to Shanahan and the Niners for finishing the year on a five-game winning streak. The offseason will be awfully interesting.