The San Francisco 49ers (4-10) won their third straight game on Sunday, in a well-fought contest that went down to the final snap, defeating the Tennessee Titans (8-6) 25-22 in Santa Clara. In what has become something of a trend for these 2017 San Francisco 49ers, they leaned on the right leg of Robbie Gould, who went an astonishing 6/6 on field goals, including a 45 yard game winner as time expired. This marked the third game in a row that Gould has carried the team to victory, and he’s hit 15 field goals in a row during that 3 game span. For the 2nd time in three weeks, Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers to victory on the final drive, this time delivering a 6 play, 48 yard gem with 1:07 to go in the game. Garoppolo and the offense breezed down the field in seemingly effortless fashion, as ‘Jimmy G’ hit on passes of 7, 24, and 14 yards, to put Gould in possession for the winning kick.
Garoppolo turned in career highs in attempts and yards, going 31/43 for 381 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He continued to maneuver marvelously in the pocket, and, as we’ve come to expect, seemed un-rattled and cold as ice throughout the game. Marquis Goodwin continued his emergence as a legitimate #1 receiver with his 3rd 95+ yard game in a row, this time tallying 10 grabs for 114 yards, and Kendrick Borne came alive with 4 catches for 85 yards.
For a while it looked as if the Niners might pull away in this one with relative ease. They led 16-3 with 1:37 to go in the 2nd half, after having dominated most of the game. They also received a huge break earlier in the half when Delanie Walker dropped a would-be touchdown. But the “Swiss Army Knife” soon made up for it, as the Titans got themselves together and marched down the field quickly to end the first half, in a drive that culminated in a 4 yard touchdown pass to Walker as time wound down.
For the third game in a row, the 49ers made this victory harder than it had to be with red zone inefficiency (1/4 inside the 20) and penalties; they continued to fail miserably in this area, and were penalized 7 times for 70 yards. This nearly came back to bite them, as they were penalized twice on a 4th quarter drive with less than 7 minutes to go. One penalty came on a short pass to George Kittle, which backed them up 10 yards, and another one nullified a touchdown on a nifty 20 yard screen pass to Trent Taylor, called back for offensive pass interference by Goodwin. This sloppy play forced the Niners to settle for the field goal, thereby keeping the game in reach for Tennessee.
Although Garoppolo was sacked 3 times on the afternoon, the 49ers did an admirable job against the Titans’ blitz heavy scheme, as Garoppolo’ s nifty pocket awareness, quick diagnoses and decision making foiled the Titans’ pass rush time and time again. Garoppolo repeatedly made the Titans’ defense pay for bringing pressure, and the trio of Garret Celek, George Kittle and 3rd down phenom Trent Taylor combined for 11 catches, 155 yards and a touchdown.
For the defense’s part, they did a great job all afternoon, managing to hold the Titans’ DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to 78 yards’ combined rushing on 25 carries. The Titans’ quartet of receiving threats were held for the most part in check, though Rishard Mathews and Eric Decker picked on Dontae Johnson early and often, with Mathews turning in a solid 95 yards on 6 receptions and a TD.
It is now plain to see that when the defense is not being worn down game after game (this is the third straight game that 49ers have won the time of possession battle), they are more than capable of playing it close with most teams in this league. They bent as always but did not break, and came up huge on the Titans’ last drive of the game, stuffing DeMarco Murray for no gain on 3rd and 2 with 1:20 to go, thereby forcing the Titans to kick a field goal, keeping the score within 3, and returning the ball to the offense for a chance to win the game.
Garoppolo continues to impress with his excellent throwing ability and cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow (RIP Stuart Scott) demeanor. While I love his Brett Favre gun-slinging mentality, there were a couple times where it almost got him into trouble – this controversial catch by Marquis Goodwin was suspect, and probably was a pass best left un-thrown. Jimmy G also almost served up an interception during a 4th quarter bomb down the sideline to Goodwin, though it was unclear if it was a poor throw or if Goodwin had sub-optimal route positioning in relation to the sideline. Still, one has to love the confidence of the quarterback here, and should gladly trade an interception here and there higher scoring frequency and more big plays.
This game was by no means a perfect effort. The 49ers MUST start converting these beautiful drives into touchdowns if they are going to defeat the top teams in the league. In addition, it is imperative that they clean up the penalties and stop shooting themselves in the foot. My guess is that both these issues are a result of the steep curve inherent in learning Kyle Shanahan’s offense, combined with what is essentially a brand new quarterback and a roster full of young players. It is probably too early in this process to point to a fault in coaching with the penalties. Shanahan has a very complicated system that is proven time and again to take 1+ seasons for players to master. If the penalty woes continue into next season, however, we’ll have a problem.
Despite the flaws, this rebuilding process is on the fast track to completion. An offseason with Jimmy Garoppolo in the classroom and on the practice field, another year of these young players coming together, and the addition of some key pieces in the draft (#1 cornerback please!), as well as the return of the various injured players, and this team could very well be sniffing a playoff spot this time next season.
For now, it is onward and upward to the next challenge. And what could be more exciting for a young team playing solid football and discovering itself, than to go up against one of the best next week? It sure will be exciting to watch these young 49ers go toe-to-toe with the mighty Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday, and to truly get an idea of where they stand among the league’s top teams.
Deforest Buckner: He showed up big time in this game, recording a game high 7 tackles, including a sack, and the drive-ending snuffing of DeMarco Murray’s rush attempt on 3rd and 2 during the Titans’ final drive.
Reuben Foster: What can I say? All I needed to do was watch about 45 seconds of this guy’s Alabama tape during the offseason to know he was the one I wanted the Niners to draft with their first pick. Though I kind of wish he wouldn’t go down like he’s just been sniped every time he gets nicked up, I can live with it if he keeps popping people like this.
49ers Defense: These guys have been a top 10 defense over the past three games in several statistical areas. I love dominating defense, and I look forward to what this unit can blossom into as they continue to grow together, get enough rest during games, and after they have a few more pieces added to the mix.
Just throwing this in here because it’s awesome
PODCAST: The Brandon Aiyuk Episode
- Pick 25 in the 2020 draft, WR Brandon Aiyuk out of Arizona State
- Scouting report, strengths, weaknesses
- How Aiyuk went from community college corner to first round reciever
- Challenges for Aiyuk to reach his immense ceiling with the 49ers
49ers Surprise During Action-Packed 2020 NFL Draft, but at what Cost?
The San Francisco 49ers filled three immediate needs during the 2020 NFL Draft, but were first-round draft picks DT Javon Kinlaw and WR Brandon Aiyuk — and new starting LT Trent Williams — worth the cost?
This is the first in a three-part series analyzing the San Francisco 49ers’ 2020 “draft masterclass.” The Niners’ draft has been ranked by analysts as one of the NFL’s best, although it takes years before a draft class can be properly assessed. So instead of merely grading these college talents before their first NFL snaps, we’ll take a look at the 49ers’ picks — and more importantly — the 49ers’ process.
San Francisco’s general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were full of surprises during the 2020 NFL Draft, beginning in the first round. Every 2020 mock draft was immediately ripped to shreds as the vast majority of fans and analysts expected the Niners to trade away one of their prized first-round picks for additional draft capital. Instead, the 49ers traded both of their Day 1 picks but ended the evening with just two players, and no selections for the second day of the draft.
Lynch and Shanahan started their “draft tradefest” in a dream scenario: on the clock with the consensus top-2 wide receivers in the draft — Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb — on the board, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the phone. The Bucs wanted to move up a single spot to the No. 13 selection — the pick the receiver-needy 49ers obtained via their trade of star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner — which would leave at least one of the two top receiver prospects on the board for San Francisco.
The two teams executed the trade, which scored the Niners a fouth-rounder in exchange for one of the 49ers’ seventh-round picks. Minutes later, San Francisco was back on the clock, and both receivers were still on the board. But instead of taking advantage of the situation they lucked themselves into, the Lynch and Shanahan did what they seem to do every year — follow their collective gut or the opinion of a trusted contact outside the organization — and drafted Buckner’s hopeful replacement, South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw:
49ers Draft Pick No. 14: DT Javon Kinlaw
On Tuesday, Lynch spoke about the decision on FOX Sports’ The Herd with Collin Cowherd:
“We were incredibly comfortable with Will Muschamp because he gave us such an accurate depiction of Deebo Samuel last year. I didn’t know Will. I met him once. But we called on Deebo and he hit all his strengths, but he also hit his, not really weaknesses, but just realities of who the person is. And he depicted Deebo so well, a year later I said, ‘Kyle, we’ve got to pick up the phone and call Will about Kinlaw because he was so darn honest.” -John Lynch
Despite Muschamp’s biased opinion of his former player, there’s a lot to like about the raw Kinlaw:
— Fourth and Nine (@fourth_nine) April 24, 2020
Standing at 6-foot-5 and 324 pounds, he is shorter and stouter than his predecessor. And surprisingly, given his massive size, the DT has proven to be a better defender against the pass than the run. In 2019, Kinlaw received a 90.7 pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF), despite logging just six sacks during the season, and 10 only sacks over his three-year college career:
Since there are no easy games in the NFL, the 49ers hope they drafted the overpowering and productive version of Kinlaw and not the version who disappeared when South Carolina faced weaker opponents.
Bonkers play by Kinlaw. Straight through the center’s chest, then runs the loop to chase down Tua for the sack. Rare combo of power, length and athleticism. pic.twitter.com/n2SjsehuPl
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) March 4, 2020
My initial assessment of the Kinlaw selection is I like the player, but I’m not a fan of the 49ers spending the draft pick they acquired in exchange for Buckner on a less-talented but cheaper version of the stud defensive lineman. San Francisco should have entered this year’s draft with one primary goal: improving their 2020 roster enough to win one more game than they did in 2019 — and “trading” Buckner for Kinlaw makes the Niners worse, albeit richer, in the short term.
Perhaps this pick would have been a bit sweeter if Lynch didn’t promptly waste the fourth-round selection he just obtained from Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, the 49ers’ fourth-year GM — in the role normally played by his partner-in-crime Shanahan — fell in love with a prospect and wasted valuable draft capital to unnecessarily trade up for the one player he desperately needed to draft.
We’ll break down the San Francisco 49ers’ second first-round selection — and how the Niners got there — next.
PODCAST: The Javon Kinlaw Episode
- Scouting report on the 14th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft
- Javon Kinlaw’s unique background story growing up between DC and South Carolina
- NFL transition and long term outlook with the 49ers