SANTA CLARA — The 49ers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-20 on Sunday. Here are the 49ers grades:
QUARTERBACK: A. Garoppolo was clutch. He wasn’t always sharp — he sailed a pass over the middle and got intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick. And he wasn’t always careful — he fired a deep throw directly to cornerback Joe Haden and almost got intercepted again, but wide receiver Deebo Samuel broke up the pass and almost made a miraculous catch. But, with five minutes left in the game, the 49ers trailing by three points, Garoppolo threw a beautiful five-yard touchdown pass to Dante Pettis, who was double covered. Amazing throw. The Steelers dared Garoppolo to beat them, and he did. He put the league on notice.
RUNNING BACKS: C. Jeff Wilson Jr., the 49ers designated red-zone running back, scored two rushing touchdowns in the red zone for the second game in a row. He’s an asset. Matt Breida averaged 4.9 yards per carry, but bobbled a pass and tipped it to the Steelers for an interception. Raheem Mostert averaged a whopping 6.6 yards per carry, but fumbled twice and the Steelers recovered one of them.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C-plus. None were dominant. Deebo Samuel led this group with just 44 receiving yards. But, Dante Pettis was clutch. He caught the game-winning touchdown pass between two defenders and finished the game with 20 receiving yards.
TIGHT ENDS: B. George Kittle led the 49ers offense in receiving yards (57) and was their best blocker in the run game. Ho hum. What else is new?
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-minus. They didn’t have left tackle Joe Staley, and still gave up only one sack. Impressive. But, Garoppolo got hit eight times, center Weston Richburg fumbled the snap twice and rookie left tackle Justin Skule committed three big penalties in the fourth quarter.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-plus. Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph made his first career start, and the 49ers defensive linemen overwhelmed him all game, even when they didn’t hit him. Rudolph looked like a deer in headlights. DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford each sacked him once. And in the fourth quarter, Arik Armstead stripped the ball from James Conner to set up the 49ers’ game-winning touchdown.
LINEBACKERS: A-plus. They were a big reason the Steelers rushed for only 81 yards. Kwon Alexander recorded seven tackles and one for loss.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B-plus. Free safety Tarvarius Moore missed a tackle and gave up a 76-yard touchdown catch to Juju Smith-Schuster. Other than that mistake, the 49ers defensive backs mostly played well. Rudolph rarely threw at Richard Sherman or Ahkello Witherspoon — they seemed to intimidate the young quarterback. So, he threw at nickel back K’Waun Williams, and Williams intercepted him. Early in the fourth quarter, Witherspoon injured his foot defending a punt and left the game. His replacement, Jason Verrett, committed a 32-yard pass-interference penalty, gave up a 39-yard touchdon catch and got benched. The 49ers need Witherspoon. He will have an MRI during the Bye week.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Robbie Gould made one field goal — a modest 24-yarder. And Mitch Wishnowsky averaged a respectable 43.3 net yards per punt.
COACHES: A. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was in the zone. His defense was so good, the Steelers offense played not to lose. Didn’t attack. Tried not to turn the ball over, and still turned it over twice. Kyle Shanahan didn’t have the offense ready to play — it committed four turnovers in their first five possessions. And he got cute in the red zone when he called a jet sweep, and the snap hit the wide receiver running the jet sweep, and the ball hit the ground and the Steelers recovered. That mistake could have cost the 49ers the game. But, almost every time the 49ers needed a touchdown drive in the second half, Shanahan delivered. When it was time to win, he didn’t get cute. He stuck with his base offense, the stuff that has worked all season, and beat the Steelers. What a start to the season. Shanahan is one of the hottest coaches in the NFL.
49ers-Steelers postgame show https://t.co/uELAHpvUUa
— Grant Cohn (@grantcohn) September 23, 2019