The 49ers opened their 2021 preseason with a 19-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium.
Let’s take a look at the answers to the 5 burning questions that I asked on Saturday morning.
1. How will the revamped offensive line perform? Needs work.
So much for getting a chance to see the changes to this unit. Alex Mack and Trent Williams were held out. This meant that Jake Brendel and rookie Jaylon Moore would get the start at center and left tackle.
The Kansas City defense would get to Trey Lance four times on the night for a total of 31 yards. Daniel Brunskill would surrender the first sack of the night to Chris Jones. Brunskill’s replacement rookie Aaron Banks didn’t fare much better, getting beat quickly to the outside for a sack.
Rookie left tackle Jaylon Moore would struggle a bit as the game went on, surrendering a sack on a third and ten play during the 49ers’ penultimate possession of the first half. Chiefs defensive end Tim Ward would use his speed to get around the rookie and take down Lance.
2. How is the third wide receiver position shaking out? Sherfield shines.
Mohamed Sanu has been the front runner for the third wide receiver position during the early part of training camp but he was held out for this game as was Jalen Hurd.
Trent Sherfield made the most of the opportunity, taking a deep throw from Trey Lance into the endzone for an 80-yard touchdown.
Richie James didn’t help his cause. Facing third and eight, Lance hit the receiver in the hands for a first down along the right sideline but the veteran could not hang on. James would be targeted on the ensuing possession while running over the middle, but this time the throw from Lance would be off the mark.
River Cracraft would be targeted four times, but gain only seven yards with his two receptions.
3. Is the defensive line as good as advertised? Yes
Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, D.J. Jones and Samson Ebukam were held out. Starting in their place were Jordan Willis, Zach Kerr, Kevin Givens and Arden Key. Of the starting group, Key had the most productive night with four tackles, while Kevin Given and Jordan Willis did a good job of pressuring Chad Henne to force an incompletion early in the second quarter.
The defensive line definitely did a good job of putting pressure on the quarterback, finishing the game with four sacks and seven quarterback hits. Pressure from the defensive line was responsible for forcing the lone Chiefs turnover when the pass rush forced Chad Henne to get rid of the ball earlier than he wanted to. The resulting poor throw bounced off the hands of the Chiefs receiver Noah Gray and Deommodore Lenoir was there for the interception.
4. Can the secondary depth hold up? Yes.
Jimmie Ward, Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and K’Waun Williams did not play, which provided a lot of action for the backups.
The rookies in the secondary all stood out. Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir showed their prowess in man coverage. While the duo would give up some catches, they were able to keep everything in front of them and limited Kansas City to only 121 yards passing while on the field.
Backup safeties Jared Mayden and Talanoa Hufanga would play well. Mayden would finish the night with five tackles and Hufanga with four.
5. What will the running back rotation be? Still unknown
With Raheem Mostert out, the bulk of the running game in the first half was handle by rookie Trey Sermon. Sermon would muster only 26 yards on nine carries with a long of five yards. The highlight for Sermon was a three-play stretch that saw him carry the ball on each play for a total of 12 yards.
Free agent acquisition Wayne Gallman would spell Sermon and gain 21 yards on six carries. Second year back JaMaycal Hasty had some impressive runs along the way to gaining 63 yards on 10 carries. As was the case with Hasty last season, he once again put the ball on the ground, losing a fumble in Kansas City territory to end a promising drive early in the fourth quarter.
Elijah Mitchell did not play.
Bonus Question: How is the quarterback competition going? It’s alive and well.
Playing behind the same offensive line, Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lances stat lines looked like this:
Jimmy Garoppolo: 3-3, 26 yards
Trey Lance: 1-2, 80 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 drop
Jimmy Garoppolo started the game and hit all three of his pass attempts for 26 yards. Garoppolo’s pass attempts would consist of a short throw in the left flat to Deebo Samuel for 13 yards, nine of which would come after the reception, and completions in the flat to Josh Hokit and Trey Sermon.
The completion to Sermon was vintage Jimmy Garoppolo. Facing third and fifteen, Garoppolo would take the check down instead of trying to throw one past the sticks. Going downfield has never been Garoppolo’s strong suit which is part of why the 49ers are looking to move on.
After Jimmy Garoppolo took the first series, Lance came on and played into the third quarter. Kyle Shanahan didn’t take it easy on the rookie, calling for a shot play on first down. After taking the snap from under center, Lance executed a play fake and dropped deep. The pressure would flush Lance out to his right and the rookie would throw a strike to Brandon Aiyuk that the second-year receiver would drop. The possession would end with a sack on second down.
On the first play of the next possession, Lance would show fans his arm strength. Lance would roll to his left after faking the handoff and launch a deep throw that hit Trent Sherfield in stride as the receiver was running across the field for an 80-yard touchdown.
While Lance’s performance was far from perfect, finishing 5-14 for 128 yard and one touchdown, three of his passes were dropped and two completions were ruled as runs the rookie was good enough to keep the competition with Garoppolo open for another week.
Josh Rosen came on for the second possession of the third quarter. After leading the offense down to the Kansas City 19-yard line, Rosen would be intercepted on a pass intended for Travis Benjamin. Rosen would finish out the game, completing 10 of his 15 pass attempts and leading the offense on a scoring drive to put the 49ers ahead 16-13 late in the fourth quarter.
Nate Sudfeld did not play. Expect him to finish off the game next week in San Diego.
Jack Hammer is a lifelong 49ers fan who shares insights on the team, and leads discussion on all football and team topics. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackHammer_NFL and subscribe to his YouTube Channel, YouTube.com/c/JackHammer49.