Plenty of blame to go around following 49ers’ first loss of 2021

San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is sacked by the Green Bay Packers defense in Santa Clara on Sunday, September 26, 2021. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

There is plenty of blame to go around after the 49ers’ 30-28 loss on Sunday night to Green Bay. Now that some time has passed since the game concluded and emotions have cooled a bit, let’s take a look at how the 49ers lost and why it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

The philosophy of the San Francisco front office has been to build the defense from the front back. The belief is that a strong pass rush will make the coverage easier for the secondary and linebackers because the quarterback won’t have much time to let receivers get open. On Sunday night the 49ers’ defensive line was unable to generate any type of pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, recording only two hits on 34 dropbacks. That’s unacceptable.

Green Bay did a good job of taking away the 49ers pass rush by having Rodgers get rid of the ball quickly, roughly half of his throws left his hand within 2.5 seconds, and using a tight end or running back to slow down Nick Bosa. The 49ers defensive end was facing the Packers third string left tackle, and the constant chips took away his speed while also no allowing him to rush around the edge.

San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans had few answers throughout the game to this. While there were a few change-ups, when the game was on the line Ryans played Green Bay straight up and Rodgers made the 49ers pay. On both completions from Rodgers to Davante Adams to set up the game-winning Mason Crosby field goal, Bosa would get knocked off his track by a chip pretty much eliminating him from the pass rush. This, along with soft zone coverage allowed Rodgers to pick up the necessary yardage.

Sunday night wasn’t the first time this season that the 49ers’ defense has been carved up late in a game. In week one against Detroit, Jared Goff diced up the San Francisco defense for two fourth quarter touchdowns and was down to the 49ers’ 24-yard line on the final possession.

San Francisco’s defensive struggles weren’t limited to only the end of the game. The secondary gave up 261 yards passing and another 81 yards through the air on defensive pass interference penalties which brought the total to 342 yards. In addition, the 49ers’ defense allowed touchdown drives of 80, 87, and 86 yards during the first three quarters. The 49ers’ defense has played bend but doesn’t break defense this season, and Sunday night they broke.

The offensive side of the ball has its own issues. The first half against Green Bay played out nearly the same way it did the previous week in Philadelphia. Here are the similarities. First three possessions, the San Francisco offense ran a total of nine offensive plays. On the fourth offensive possession, the 49ers finally crossed midfield but were forced to punt. Then as the first half came to a close the offense scored a touchdown. The similarities between the two weeks were uncanny.

During the first half against Philadelphia and Green Bay, everything has looked like a struggle for the 49er’s offense. Like is often the case with football, it’s not just one thing that is causing this. The run game has struggled, pass protection has been an issue, and Jimmy Garoppolo struggles to get the ball down the field.

Kyle Shanahan is widely considered to be one of the best run game coordinators in the NFL, it’s how the 49ers have been constructed. San Francisco’s rushing offense has not been good either of the last two weeks and is currently 25th in the NFL with an average of only 3.6 yards per attempt. That still doesn’t represent how poorly the 49ers have run the ball this season. After gaining 65 yards on their first six attempts, which included 20 yards for Raheem Mostert on the first two carries of the season and a 38-yard touchdown by Elijah Mitchell, the 49ers have gained only 250 yards on their last 81 rushing attempts.

Forget what the subscription services try to feed you, the 49ers offensive line has been struggling with pass protection. Last week against Philadelphia, Jimmy Garoppolo avoided sacks and contact a number of times with his movement in the pocket. On Sunday night against a Green Bay defense playing without its best pass rusher the Packers were able to hit Garoppolo 11 times. That total is in spite of Garoppolo getting the ball out in 2.63 seconds on average, ninth quickest in the league in week three with the Monday night game still to be played.

That leaves us with the lack of a downfield passing attack. Jimmy Garoppolo has never been considered a good downfield thrower. In 2019 during his one full season as a starting quarterback Garoppolo averaged only 6.5 air yards per attempt, third lowest in the NFL. This has continued to be the case as Garoppolo’s 5.8 air yards per attempt through the first three weeks of the season is once again the third lowest in the league.

While the loss on Sunday night shed a light on a number of difficulties it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that the 49ers are 2-1, and are tied for the sixth most offensive touchdowns.

If San Francisco can figure out how to get the offense going earlier in games it will go a long way toward helping out a defense that through three weeks has proven to be up and down. With tough division games coming up with Seattle and Arizona the 49ers need to get things together quickly.

This article has 50 Comments

  1. This offense is going to be re-invented until we get Jeff back.

    We are going to start slow again against Seattle if we try to run our normal offense. Seattle will do exactly what PHI and GB did. Plug the middle with Mone and Ford and bring Adams down on the LOS.

    They need to spread them out and let Jimmy pick them apart, Seattle’s secondary is horrid. That was the game plan last year in their first matchup, Jimmy just wasn’t healthy.

  2. This is a good article, Jack. Thanks very much.
    Gotta give a lot of credit to LaFleur and Barry. They might have just printed the textbook on how to beat us as currently constituted. Their offensive and defensive schemes were brilliant. All the teams with top quarterbacks can replicate this, no?
    Unless there’s a grade A secondary they can suddenly produce, it seems to me that the only way to possibly change the algebra would be to replace Garoppolo with Lance. Having Mitchell back could help as well.

    1. How does replacing Garoppolo with Lance make the 49ers offense score more than 28pts per game?

      Also the blueprint on the 49ers for the last 10 years has been to use neutralize our front 7 and attack our weak secondary.

      1. James, please do me the courtesy of reading what I said. I said “possibly.” Nothing’s automatic. But Lance has the potential of opening up everything.

        “Also the blueprint on the 49ers for the last 10 years has been to use neutralize our front 7 and attack our weak secondary.” In 2019 the team beat the Packers and Rodgers twice convincingly. Neither game was a contest. Yesterday we were lucky to remain in the game. Green Bay clearly dominated both sides. They figured it out.

          1. You are correct James.
            If KS thinks Lance is better than Jimmy , he would have played already.
            JG got no protection on Sunday, that’s one of the reasons he failed. I’d like to see TL do any better with this kind of OL!
            I have seen NOTHING so far from Lance to justify the switch, more like the opposite. TL has shown potential, nothing else.
            Which one of KS picks do you think is a proven elite QB? Mullens, Jimmy, Beathard or Lance?
            Maybe KS is not the QB whisperer that some think he is……

      2. For me, starting Lance is more about ball control, and time of possession. The 49ers may not score many more points right now with Lance at the helm, but they’ll have a much better chance of sustaining drives, and creating first downs. That in itself would give this team a much needed shot in the arm, because TOP benefits both the offense, and the defense.

        At the very least Trey Lance ought to be more involved than he is now, that’s for sure!

        I think one of the main reasons that Kyle can’t go away from Jimmy right now is that the team is 2-1, and Kyle allowed the locker room to chose sides during training camp. Jimmy is well liked within the LR, and a lot of these guys went to the Super Bowl with Jimmy, so they aren’t in favor of replacing Jimmy with a 21 year old rookie.

        They should have traded or released Jimmy, like I said time and time again during the offseason.

      3. Jimmy is not good and if Lance is worse than Jimmy we’re in
        for a long season. I personally believe the offense would be better
        with Lance because he would open things up and he can throw the long ball,
        as well as move the chains and this will keep drives alive, He may have 1 or 2’ turnovers
        a game but the offense would average 31 points per game.

  3. It was the 1983 NFCCG the 49ers lost primarily on one call. It was a PI that obviously was uncatchable. The next year there was a rule change, there was no PI on an uncatchable ball. Over the last 37 years I have seen that call made numerous times, more in the early years now a lot less. On 2 of the 9ers PI calls last night I believe the passes were uncatchable. If the officials are no longer going to make that call then take the rule out of the book.

    1. Old Coach, I remember that game, I believe. It was against the Redskins and the “penalty” was on Eric Davis, is that correct? We seemed to be on our way to winning and pulling a major upset.

      Getting back you your comment, I believe they were uncatchable as well. However, Garoppolo intentionally grounded the ball in one particular play and they didn’t call that. We might have scored after that but frankly I don’t remember. Btw that’s two games in a row where Jimmy’s intentionally grounded the ball. Might be an NFL record.

      1. Not THE Eric Davis??? He played in the 90s. Unless there was another Eric Davis back in 1983. Or maybe it was Eric Wright you’re thinking of?

          1. There was also a bad call on Lott as he and the Redskin (Washington Football Team) receiver watched a third down incomplete pass in the end zone. Lott was not involved in the play and at least ten yards out of the end zone. The four extra downs killed the clock. That was the second bad call at the end of the game.

            It’s not like I’m still bothered by that game. Down 21-0 only to come back 21 points in the second half. Eric Wright used an arm bar along the left side line after the ball had sailed over their heads. That was the first bad call.

            The golden rule is never give officials an unnecessary chance to make a bad call.

        1. Yeah those three 4th quarter Touchdown passes Montana threw to tie the game before that horrible call were just chump time stat padding. That Montana wasn’t nearly as good as Rodgers. Good grief.

        2. LOL Rib, those last three passes from Joe would have the people on here call for his head (or Lance)!
          That was almost THREE interceptions in a row!

    2. The call I remember from that game was a hold on Ronnie Lott that gave the Redskins a first down when it looked like they had stopped them. That was the game right there. Really bad call that handed the game to DC.

        1. As I recall, that Washington squad had been hyped to High Heaven, but after we rubbed their nose in it a bit, the LA Raiders had their way with them in the Super Bowl.

    1. Interesting.. that rivalry for me has kind of faded. I guess with both teams mediocrity for the better part of a decade or so did it for me. I no longer care if they win/lose.

      Of course if you asked me in the 80s or 90s I’d be singing a different tune :)

      1. I don’t think my hated for the cowboys will ever fade. Maybe if they lose the next 20 seasons I might stop caring.😊

        1. Ricardo I love your despise for the Cowboys. I only started watching the 49ers in the late 90’s. I share a similar view point on the dam Seahawks.

          1. James you were lucky to not have witnessed those back to back NFC Championship loses to the Cowboys in the early 90s. It took a Deion Sander to stop that train and keeping the Cowboys from winning 3 SB in a row.

            1. And then Jerrah took him away from us and went on to win again :-/

              Okay I’m back to despising the Cowboys.

              Watching our inept linebackers unable to stop Emmitt Smith or hearing Jimmy yell out “How ‘bout them Cowboooooys!” pretty much did it for me. Although Jimmy seems like a really nice guy after the fact.

              Then there was that epic 75 yarder from Aikman to Alvin Harper late in one of those NFCCG games. That was a total gut punch. The game started with a 80 yard TD to Jerry Rice that they called back on a phantom hold.

              Conversely I think we went into Cowboy stadium one year and beat the living daylight out of them with a back up quarterback. That was fun.

              1. That’s the only 49er game that I took my wife to see. After that fumble she turned to me and said, “We’re going to lose this game, right?”

                Me “Yep.”

  4. Good stuff Jack. I get very frustrated watching Jimmy G play QB but replacing him at this point is not the answer. Jimmy hasnt been terrible. He’s just not a top 10 QB. Throwing a rookie QB out behind that line could do more harm than good. The play of the D line and O line are the real problems. Demeco being a new coordinator is a contributing factor but I think he will clean up a lot of issues. Not sure if the O line can be fixed. Might truly be a talent issue on the right side. Teams can’t continuously make high value draft mistakes and expect to consistently win. Aaron Banks and Trey Sermon look like mistakes early in their careers. McGlinchey looks average at best and Brunskil is a backup. No pass rush with Lockett & Metcalf against that secondary feels like a looming bloodbath coming our way.

  5. Jack Hammer consistently provides insightful analyses of the Niners. Thanks, Jack. I have three observations of the team at this point.

    1. The Niners do not know how to start and end games. At the beginning they can’t get the offense going, and at the end they can’t stop the opposition.

    2. Dee Ford is a greatly overpaid dud. He has made little contribution to the defense; against Green Bay he disappeared totally.

    3. The defense is overrated. Problems with weak defensive backs create issues and safeties do not offer any help when needed. The coordinator stays with the same scheme through tot with no variations (insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different outcomes).

    Unless team deficiencies are solved it will be a long, dismal season.

  6. Dee Ford has been invisible and Samson Ebukam has been at 95% transparency. I feel like the total absence of a credible pass rush from the LDE spot is clogging up the rest of the line and allowing teams to concentrate solely on Nick Bosa. Arden Key has returned to being Arden Key. LBers continue performing poorly in their run fits. The good news is Maurice Hurst might be a big boon to the defense when he returns. Hopefully Dre Greenlaw comes back before the end of the year. The safeties haven’t been great but they haven’t been terrible either. Injuries at CB have also caused major problems. I do have hope the defense is able to improve dramatically before the end of the year but right now it isn’t good. I look at that LDE spot as a major domino that must be addressed and that won’t happen this year. That means Demeco Ryans must earn his money by developing a defensive strategy that compensates for the teams inability to create pressure with a 4 man pass rush. Time will only tell if Demeco has that type of strategic mind.

  7. I am done with Jimmy G

    How can you be in a system this long and look terrible in your home opener – with Jimmy you never know what you will get.

    At least with Trey – you know if the pass is not there he will run the ball.

  8. We drafted Jaylon Moore as a potential right guard. It was a mistake to have groomed him at swing tackle. We had Brunskill and Coleman and whomever to play tackle in a pinch. We should have maximized training camp competition at right guard. Mack and Brunskill stink except for blocking in space and the way defensive lines are going to be crowding us, that’s not as much of a skill anymore.

  9. So it appears we are going to lose K’Waun Williams for some time (3+ weeks) with the calf injury.

    49ers are about to sign Buster Skrine (who?) to play slot corner. At this point it’s slim pickings at the cornerback position in the NFL.

    1. Mr. Extreme Nuisance,

      you are most negative fan of 49ers. it is in the first quarter a long season of footballs. sure we squandered a lead with 37 seconds to go but I digress. It is not like they squandered 270 millions on idiotic recall election or 100 M on a bogus fraudit in AZ. Cheer up .

  10. Jack, and everyone else on the board.

    It seems opposing teams are taking out Bosa by chipping (double teaming really) him with an inside wr. This has allowed them to occupy a db in coverage, double Bosa and slide their protection to the other side.

    Obviously they could move Bosa inside but with all of his pass rush moves are predicated on being an outside rusher they need to have a contingency if he is not a good inside rusher.

    What else could they do to counter this?
    Could they line up the db on the inside in tight man coverage with the idea being to blitz him and have Bosa tie up the chipping receiver?

    1. Chipping Bosa in itself is not what beat the Niners, IMO. What beat the Niners D was Rodgers getting rid of the ball in 2.15 second on average — trusting his receivers to get the ball and for the Niners CBs to play inadequate defense (e.g., not using trail technique to defend back shoulder throws). Pass rush can’t do much of anything if the QB can complete passes in about 2 seconds. The back 7 also have to do their part in pass D. If they can hold coverage for over 2.5 seconds, pressure will get to the QB in some form — chipping or no chipping.

      IMO, blitzing may work against Goff and Wentz but probably not against top 10 QBs. IIRC, Ryans chose to blitz a few times in the first half and Rodgers made him pay. Blitzing may work on third and long occasinally against Russ and Murray, but it seems like the Niners have some fundamental problems in pass defense until Norman and Moseley are both playing together. Lenoir is still learning and I’m not holding out much hope for Kirkpatrick.

      1. The coverages were declared so early that Rodgers often knew where the ball was going before he snapped it, and when he did have to hold the ball the chips were very helpful.

        1. They were calling the coverage in the broadcast before the ball was snapped. They were also pointing out knowing when it was man coverage made Roger’s life so much easier — as if he needs the extra help.

    2. Honestly, I think this may be the most important question facing Demeco Ryans right now. The issues with the 49ers D-line go directly to the 49ers non existent pass rush at LDE. Teams can pay alot of attention to Bosa and leave everyone else to block 49er d-lineman one on one. I think the 49ers are going to need to start blitzing more to get pressure. A few schematic solutions I like.

      Run the Cowboy+Aldon Smith line stunts. Have Kinlaw collapse guard and tackle pushing inside out and have Bosa loop around underneath. Really need the LBers to be good in contain if this is the defense. Works on both sides.

      Line up a LB on the outside of Bosa. Rush sometimes and drop into coverage on other plays. Make the extra blocker on Bosa have to decide between chipping Bosa or pick up a blitzing LBer. Can use this alignment on the other side also to force o-lines to shift protection to the overloaded side to give Bosa a 1v1.

      Push upfield with interior rushers 1 yard and then stop and drop a yard or 2 to create a controllable pocket. Then run a few jet blitzes to force the QB up into the pocket to the waiting interior d lineman. I also like this tactic of delayed rushes similar to how the Giants beat the Patriots in the Superbowl. Drop 1 yard and then when the rush lanes naturally develop you send the d-lineman upfield.

      Lastly one of the more machiavellian tactics I actually really like when a team is using a RB to chip the DE is to blitz off the edge and have the DE loop around the blitzer. The blitzers job is to earhole the back thats been chipping the DE. It’s also legal for the blitzer to actually cut block the RB thats chipping the DE as long as the DE doesn’t make contact with the RB – although i have some ethical issues with that tactic. The point is that RB should be looking out of his earhole so when he chips again he’s lost a little of his fight. Call this the Donte Whitner v Pierre Thomas Message Blitz.

    3. They are lined up so far outside that the alignment makes the chips easy. Once GB started doing that on Sunday night Bosa was taken out of the game.

  11. “N.F.L. Rookie Quarterbacks Have Been Bad. Can That Change?” — Mike Tanier (my current fave sportswriter)

    Good rookie quarterbacks are all alike. Terrible rookie quarterbacks are all terrible in their own way. And this year’s rookie quarterbacks? They look far more terrible than usual.

    Three N.F.L. rookies have started all three of their teams’ games at quarterback so far this season: Mac Jones of the New England Patriots, Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Zach Wilson of the Jets. They have combined to throw 17 interceptions and just nine touchdowns while leading their teams to a collective 1-8 record. The only victory was when Jones’s Patriots defeated Wilson’s Jets.

    A rookie season is usually a roller-coaster ride. So far in 2021, they have all been haunted houses.

    Playing behind a sturdy offensive line, supported by an outstanding defense and getting the Pygmalion treatment from Belichick, Jones has been the best of the rookie bunch so far.

    Fields, by contrast, looked utterly unprepared for his first start. Bears Coach Matt Nagy insisted Dalton was the team’s unchallenged starter from the moment the 11-year veteran arrived in March, denying Fields any chance to compete for the role in the preseason. Whether Fields is now unready because of a lack of starter’s reps or he didn’t earn starter’s reps because he wasn’t ready for them is the sort of chicken or egg question N.F.L. franchises typically answer by firing the coach.

    Whatever Fields learned from watching Dalton sure looked like the wrong lessons on Sunday. Jimmy Garoppolo is holding off Lance in San Francisco by executing the screen passes and misdirection plays coaches typically use to hide the deficiencies of their rookies. Still, one look at Fields, Jones, Lawrence or Wilson is all the justification the 49ers need for sticking with Garoppolo for now.
    (probably a paywall)

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