The San Francisco 49ers are 1-0, and technically leading the NFC West (thanks to the divisional tiebreaker)! For the sixth straight season, the 49ers won their season opener, defeating the Los Angeles Rams by a final score of 28-0. The game got incredibly ugly for stretches, but it was never in doubt once the 49ers took a two-score lead. It even got to the point where Colin Kaepernick got some garbage time work.
On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers game plan was clear. They were going to focus their efforts on running back Todd Gurley, and essentially dare Case Keenum to beat them. They brought timely blitzes on passing downs, but on first and second down, they were happy to let him try and beat them. The Rams regularly looked to try and get Tavon Austin the ball in open space, but the 49ers secondary and linebackers were swarming all night long. Austin finished with four receptions for 13 yards on 12 targets!
One question on the defensive side of the ball was what to make of the pass rush. Aaron Lynch is suspended through Week 4, leaving the team without arguably their best pass rusher. Jim O’Neil dialed up an excellent game plan. While the defense focused on Gurley, in passing situations, O’Neil did a great job picking his moments to dial up blitzes. And the blitzes were fairly exotic, with some up the middle, some off the edge, and some combining both. It worked about as well as one might expect against the Rams.
On the offensive side of the ball, it was a little bit more of a mixed bag. The 49ers got a strong, grinding game from Carlos Hyde. He finished with 88 rushing yards on 23 carries. He had two touchdowns and some great moves, and it was a grinding game. There were several instances where there was just nothing there, but he also frequently showed tremendous footwork and physicality in bouncing off defenders.
Blaine Gabbert finished the night 22 of 35 for 170 yards, with one touchdown pass to Vance McDonald. He had some nice passes, and made some critical conversions, but there were extended stretches where he couldn’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn. There were some odd play-calling decisions with the 14-0 lead early in the third quarter, but even still, it was not pretty for stretches.
And yet, it was enough. More importantly, we saw a strong performance from the offensive line. There is work to do moving forward, but Gabbert was not sacked, and generally was able to run the offense. It was not great at times, but defensive pressure was not a significant problem. For the time being, that has me more excited than anything about the offense. At least for now.
And on a side note, big props to Jaquiski Tartt and the 49ers coverage units against punt returner Tavon Austin. He had one big return, but otherwise was entirely shut down. Tartt was dragging down Austin with regularity.
The 49ers saw Andrew Tiller and Carlos Hyde visit with the trainer at different points, but both made it back on the field. Rashard Robinson went down at one point as well, but it appeared to be a cramp. I imagine there will be some other bumps and bruises, but we’ll wait and see what Chip Kelly has to say about the injury report. The 49ers next practice participation report will arrive on Wednesday.
Next up for the 49ers is a Week 2 road trip to Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers. This is a significantly more difficult test than what the Los Angeles Rams presented. The Panthers have Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin, along with a dynamic ground game. Their defense lost Josh Norman, but remains a tough unit that will challenge this 49ers offense.