The San Francisco 49ers (5-4) struggled early before fixing their mistakes and coming from behind for a 22-16 win over the Los Angeles Chargers (5-4) Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium.
Here are the answers to the five questions I asked prior to the game.
1.) Will Jimmy Garoppolo keep up the strong play? YES
Jimmy Garoppolo has played at a very high level the last two games.
Against the Chargers on Sunday night, he completed 19 of 28 pass attempts for 240 yards. Garoppolo’s 7.9 net yards per pass was nearly two yards higher than the average allowed by the Chargers this season.
What has made Garoppolo’s performance so impressive over the last two weeks has been his play on third down and ability to limit mistakes.
Garoppolo hit on eight of ten third down pass attempts against the Chargers for 108 yards.
Over the last two weeks he has combined to go 11-15, 133 yards, two touchdowns through the air and ran four times for six yards and a touchdown. All on the money down.
Garoppolo has missed some throws, but he has not made a costly mistake in recent weeks.
Not known for throwing the ball away, Garoppolo did just that on a few occasions against the Chargers.
One of the more notable occurrences came after the 49ers drove deep into the Chargers red zone on their opening possession. On first and ten from the Los Angeles nine, Garoppolo dropped back to pass after a play fake, with no one open he fired the ball into the first row of seats behind the endzone.
Although the 49ers were forced to settle for a field goal, the decision not to force a pass showed a difference in Garoppolo’s decision making.
He did this a few other times throughout the game on Sunday night. Garoppolo’s ability to limit mistakes will be crucial to the 49ers success in the second half of the season.
2.) How will the 49ers offense look with Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel both active? Not much different
The 49ers offense was supposed to force opposing defenses to “pick their poison” when it came to defending Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel.
Against the Chargers, although neither stood out they were both solid.
McCaffrey finished with 77 yards on 18 touches and one rushing touchdown. His 21-yard reception to open the second half was his biggest play of the night.
Samuel wasn’t much of a factor at all. While he was targeted six times, he was limited to only two receptions for 24 yards. Both of Samuel’s catches came and third and long with neither resulting in a first down. The receiver did line up in the backfield, and the 49ers broke tendency by having him run between the tackles for a change. His four carries netted 27 yards.
It’s going to take time for Kyle Shanahan to see how defenses react. As the season progresses look for him to find mismatches to exploit with the two play makers.
3.) What will Elijah Mitchell’s role be? RB1
Making his return to action for the first time since week one in Chicago, Mitchell was impressive.
The second year back looked just as explosive as he had to start the season. With all the attention on McCaffrey and Samuel, it was Mitchell who ripped off several big runs on his way to 89 yards on 18 rushing attempts.
With the trio of McCaffrey, Samuel and Mitchell Kyle Shanahan has all the ingredients to put together a running game which can propel the 49ers through a deep playoff run in January.
4.) Can the 49ers defense contain Justin Herbert? YES
After the Chargers opening possession, it appeared the 49ers defense was in for a long night.
Justin Herbert connected on all five attempts including a 32-yard dart to DeAndre Carter for a touchdown to take a quick seven-point lead.
Herbert’s luck quickly changed.
Over the final 56 minutes, the third-year quarterback was able to hit on only 16 of 30 attempts for 125 yards and an interception.
Not having his top two receivers played a role in Herbert’s performance. However, let us not forget the 49ers were missing three starters along the defensive line, a starting cornerback and played without Dre Greenlaw in the second half.
The 49ers defense had struggled with getting off the field at times during the first half of the season. They’ve turned that around recently, pitching a shutout in the second half against both the Rams and Chargers.
Kudos to DeMeco Ryans and his entire defensive staff.
5.) Can the 49ers defense corral Austin Ekeler? YES
San Francisco’s defense knew they needed to take away Ekeler, and that’s exactly what they did.
Coming in as the Chargers leading receiver, the running back finished with seven receptions but was able to gain only 39 yards.
After a 14-yard reception on the opening drive, Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner combined to hold Ekeler to only 25 yards the rest of the night.
The 49ers run defense was just as strong, holding Ekeler to only 24 yards on six carries.
49ers 27 Chargers 17