The San Francisco 49ers improved to 5-5 for the season with a dominating 30-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Stadium on Sunday. The win sets up a showdown with the Minnesota Vikings next week as both teams fight to gain a position in the NFC playoffs.
Here are the answers to the five questions I asked on Saturday.
1. Will the 49ers stick with the run? YES
The 49ers offense is at its best when they commit to the running game, and they’ve done just that over the last two weeks. After having 44 rushing attempts on Monday night, San Francisco ran the ball 42 times against Jacksonville.
This commitment played a big role in the 49er’s offense holding on to the ball and dominating time of possession. San Francisco held the ball for 38:22 to only 21:38 for Jacksonville.
When the 49ers lost Raheem Mostert for the season in the opener at Detroit, they also lost the explosive element in their running game. They seem to have found that in Deebo Samuel. Against Jacksonville, Samuel gained 79 yards and had one touchdown on eight carries. Over the last two weeks Samuel has put up 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts.
The running game was a bit of a grind outside the carries by Samuel. Jeff Wilson Jr and Trey Sermon combined for 82 yards on 29 carries, an average of only 2.8 yards per attempt.
Wilson and Sermon also chipped in with two receptions for 31 yards. Sermon’s 23 yard grab late in the first half set up a field goal from Robbie Gould as the first half came to a close.
2. Can the 49ers take advantage of Trevor Lawrence? YES
The 49ers defense did a good job against Lawrence on Sunday. His final stat line, 16-25, 158 yards might look OK, but prior to the final Jaguars offensive possession when the 49ers defense had its backup cornerbacks in the game Lawrence had completed only 12 of 20 attempts for 103 yards.
San Francisco’s pass rush made things difficult for Lawrence throughout, recording six hits and three sacks on the rookie quarterback.
Nick Bosa led the charge with a pair of sacks and three quarterback hits. Bosa now has a career high 10 sacks on the season.
Arden Key added a sack as well, his third for the season. Key has seen his snaps increase over the last four weeks and he has made the most of the opportunities, recording three sacks. To put that number into perspective, Key had a total of three sacks in his career prior to this year.
3. Will Jimmy Garoppolo keep it going? YES
Jimmy Garoppolo has regained the form that helped San Francisco to the NFC’s best record in 2019. Over the last four games Garoppolo has recorded a quarterback rating of 100 or better for the first time since doing it in weeks 10-13 of that Super Bowl season. Garoppolo finished 16-22 for 176 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 126.3, his highest of the season.
Garoppolo has been better when playing on the road instead of at Levi’s Stadium this season, and that continued against Jacksonville as the 49ers remained undefeated in Garoppolo’s three road starts.
In the first half, Garoppolo hit on 10 of his 14 attempts for 128 yards and a touchdown. Of his four incompletions, two came on passes that were thrown away. His ability to make throws on third down and in the red zone were big during the half, especially during a 20 play, 89-yard drive to open the game that took over 13 minutes off the clock. He was able to hit Brandon Aiyuk on a slant for 13 yards on 3rd and 12 to extend the opening drive of the game. On the next possession Garoppolo would find Aiyuk again, this time on 3rd and goal for a seven-yard touchdown.
4. Can the 49ers offense hold on to the football? YES
Prior to the game I wrote the San Francisco offense is pretty good when they hold onto the football.
This showed up again on Sunday as the 49ers were able to post their second game in a row without an offensive turnover. This is the first time San Francisco has been able to do this in back-to-back games this season.
In addition to the lack of turnovers, the 49ers have done an excellent job of holding on to passes the last two weeks.
It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the 49ers receivers doing a better job of holding onto the football has come as Brandon Aiyuk has seen an increase in his targets. After having only 16 targets in the first six games, Aiyuk has been targeted 26 times over the last four. Against Jacksonville, Aiyuk would make the catch on all seven of his targets and gain 85 yards with one touchdown.
5.Will the San Francisco offensive line protect Jimmy Garoppolo? YES
Jacksonville was only able to get to Garoppolo four times on Sunday, recording two sacks. The 49ers offensive line did a good job of neutralizing the Jaguars best pass rushers, Josh Allen and Dawuane Smoot. Neither were able to record a hit on Garoppolo.
The commitment to the run game has translated to improved protection of the quarterback in the passing game. Over the last two games, the 49ers offensive line has allowed only five hits on Jimmy Garoppolo.
49ers 24 Jaguars 16