San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Chris Borland has been nominated for the NFL's Pepsi Rookie of the Week award. They list him as having 18 tackles, with three for a loss. Pro Football Focus lists him with 17 solo tackles, 12 of which were for stops. PFF graded him out at +3.8, with a 4.0 against the run, -0.2 in pass rush, and -0.1 in pass coverage. You can vote for Borland HERE.
Borland made some huge plays, but there was one negative play of note. Kenny Britt ran a drag route across the middle of the field, and found himself in wide open space after catching a pass from Austin Davis. Here is a quick pre-snap look with my fancy drawing. This is quick and dirty, so I ignored things like straight lines!
I wanted to post that just to set up this GIF of the play. The lower X above is Chris Borland, the higher X is Antoine Bethea. Here is the play in action:
The Rams sent Britt across the field, while also sending their running back up the middle and then out to the right. Borland got crossed up on who to cover as the two Rams players passed each other. In looking at the play, it would appear Bethea would have been the guy to cover the running back, while Borland would have stuck with Britt across the field.
We don't know for certain just how the assignments were set, but here is what Borland said after the game about the play:
Going back to the blown assignment, what happened on the play?
"They ran vertical routes to my right and a drag to my left, and I thought I had help, but I should have known I didn't to the outside, so the drag, I should have covered it."
That's the WR Kenny Britt touchdown?
That's a lot to ask of a linebacker if you're supposed to stay with a receiver that long. You wouldn't expect some deep help at least?
"That's our assignment, and I should have played better."
Coverage is not Borland's strong suit, although he had some good to go with this bad. One of the more notable plays was stopping Tre Mason for a big loss on a screen pass. Borland is looking like a really solid run defender, so you could make the argument that defending a screen would be a bit more in his wheelhouse.
After the game was over, there was already chatter among fans about what the 49ers will do when Patrick Willis gets back. They will have Willis, Borland and Michael Wilhoite at their disposal. Wilhoite is a solid replacement for NaVorro Bowman, but at times he seems to be the textbook definition of a "replacement player" for the 49ers. He would likely be a starter on quite a few defenses, but obviously he is behind Bowman and Willis in San Francisco.
But when Willis gets back, does Borland move into the starting lineup over Wilhoite? My guess is no at this point, but we've seen rookies getting more and more playing time this season. Jimmie Ward has been a "starter" in the nickel since day one, but Aaron Lynch is the most notable example of gaining playing time as the season has moved along. Additionally, Dontae Johnson has seen more opportunities. Will Borland follow suit, or does he return primarily to special teams when Willis is back?