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Film room: The 49ers defense comes through with another clutch performance and Jimmy Garoppolo’s struggles continue

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The 49ers defense pitched a shutout in a torrential downpour, but did the same rain also affect Garoppolo? Short answer: No.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers prevailed 9-0 in a rain-soaked contest where the only points came from kicker Robbie Gould in the second half. The defense pitched its first shutout since week one of 2016 and its first shutout on the road since 2012. Nick Bosa led the way for the defense, recording a game-ending sack and four tackles for losses. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo struggled in the first half, making a few head-scratching decisions, culminating in an early third-quarter interception into double coverage. He would finish strong, attempting eight passes and completing all eight for 113 yards.

A win is a win, though, and the team took advantage of a rainy field to have some fun sliding around, basking in the feeling of being undefeated through six games. Cornerback Richard Sherman summed it up after the game, saying, “it was fun. It was ‘Mud Bowl 2019 Champions,’ you know what I mean?”

For head coach Kyle Shanahan, the game was more personal to him than the players. He stated earlier in the week that he enjoyed some things about his time in Washington working for the Redskins, the coaches, the players, and working for his dad. The things he didn’t enjoy? “Everything else,” referring mainly to Dan Snyder.

“Everyone’s a little more sensitive being that things involve your family, so that’s why I’m always a little more sensitive to this with my dad here, and that’s why it was nice to get the win” Shanahan said after the game, adding that “you always want to take care of things the right way when you’re bothered by how some things have been for a family member.” In the end, Kyle and Mike had the last laugh, with the elder Shanahan getting the game ball.

Defense remains clutch

While Mike Shanahan may have received the game ball, it was the entire defense that probably deserved it this time, as they made several key stops again in an otherwise sloppy game. The Redskins had them on the ropes on the first drive, similar to the Rams game last week, where they continued to go after the 49ers front with run after run. The Redskins gained 68 yards on the ground before attempting a pass.

Redskins quarterback Case Keenum’s first pass attempt was a shovel pass to Steven Sims. The Redskins attempted to run a shovel option. On the shovel option, the quarterback has the option of pitching to the running back or trying a shovel pass to the second option man based on the quarterback’s read of the defensive end. The play ended with a three-yard loss. Keenum reads defensive end Nick Bosa, and Bosa expertly simulates taking away the pitch read.

The scrape exchange (linebacker that replaces the defensive end in the C-gap) allows Bosa to get upfield and threaten both the quarterback and the pitchman without having to worry about containing the edge. As Keenum pulls the ball back to the shovel read, Bosa, already in a great position to play the shovel since he got upfield quickly, lunges for Stevens. Stevens catches the shovel and is dropped for a three-yard loss. The Redskins would miss the ensuing field goal wide right.

The Redskins converted just three of nine of third downs and were stuffed up the middle on their lone fourth-down attempt late in the second quarter after they attempted a slow-developing running play instead of electing to have Keenum fall forward for a yard.

Jullian Taylor had a superb game, seeing his first snaps since week two at Cincinnati. He was activated on game day due to defensive tackle DJ Jones being sidelined with a hamstring strain. And he made the most of his snaps. In this play, the Redskins needed less than a yard to keep a potential scoring drive going before the half. On fourth down, they instead elected to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson on a slow-developing “F Lead” running play.

The right side of the 49ers defensive line clogged the interior of the offense with lower pad levels than their blockers while the left side got good gap penetration to prevent a cut back to that side. Taylor himself is supposed to shoot the A-gap at the thigh pads of both the center and the guard. Almost every member of the defensive front is across the line of scrimmage into the backfield. Taylor corals Peterson with one arm, stopping him dead in his tracks as Ronald Blair comes into clean up the stop. The 49ers defense gets off the field without surrendering a point so far.

The defense also recorded three sacks on the day, ones by Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, and Nick Bosa.

On this one by Arik Armstead, Robert Saleh called a cover-1 hole defense with a five-man pressure. The defense lines up with six men on the line of scrimmage, already signaling to Keenum that pressure could be coming from any combination of the six, or all six. The 49ers haven’t typically blitzed all six, but they will drop either Kwon Alexander or Fred Warner into the low hole. Here, Warner drops into the low hole as the RAT looking to rob any shallow crosser or slant.

Alexander blitzes, along with the pass rush. Bosa and Buckner execute a tackle-end exchange stunt while Armstead penetrates through the B-gap, and bull rushes the lineman in pursuit of the quarterback. Keenum is looking for the pivot route inside underneath, but Warner slides that way to cut off the throw, so Keenum pulls it down. As soon as he does, Armstead is in the backfield to finish with the sack.

With the Redskins mounting a potential scoring drive, the 49ers would need another player to step up and make a play, and they got it from linebacker Kwon Alexander, who’s been having a breakout season on his own.

The defense stacks the box with seven defenders with Taylor and Blair wrecking the right side of the offensive line. Taylor gets penetration, and Blair spills Peterson back inside, where Alexander is waiting after beating his blocker at the point of attack. Sheldon Day grabs Peterson, and Alexander comes in and swats the ball out of Peterson’s grasp. He loses control of it just before he hits the ground, and Taylor scoops it up. That was the play they needed on defense. It set up the next scoring drive where kicker Robbie Gould hit a 22-yard field goal to put the 49ers up 6-0.

Lastly, Bosa had himself a day as well, recording five tackles, four of them for losses, and had four total quarterback pressures according to Pro Football Focus, one of which ended up being the game-ending sack.

Bosa easily beats veteran left tackle Donald Penn around the edge, flushes Keenum from the pocket, and finishes with a sack and post sack celebration by diving and sliding headfirst on the grass like it was a slip-n-slide.

Jimmy Garoppolo’s continued struggles

While a large portion of the woes in the passing game on Sunday can be attributed to weather and rain, we cannot overlook the fact that Garoppolo still tried to force the ball into coverage to his security blanket George Kittle and missed seeing other open receivers. The rain did not affect his overall decision making. After his interception, he found enough of a rhythm to drive his team down the field to put them in situations where they could at least kick field goals. But before that, it was a struggle.

On a few occasions, Garoppolo tried to force Kittle the ball when he had receivers open. Kittle is running a shallow crosser here. Garoppolo sends Pettis on the orbit motion designed to pull defenders out of the box and open the throw over the middle. He has an alert route down the sideline if his primary read isn’t open. Strong safety Landon Collins reads Garappolo and sees Kittle coming across while middle linebacker Jon Bostic drops into the throwing lane underneath Kittle as Garoppolo throws. Both deep safeties break on the pass as Garoppolo forces the ball into triple coverage.

He had a clean pocket which he could have reset and thrown downfield to the open receiver Richie James, who was wide open as the corner, playing a squat technique with his hips pointed inside, sat in the flat and the safeties converged on Kittle. He needed to look elsewhere and trust his arm to make the throw.

Late in the second, as the 49ers were driving down to try and notch the games first points, he forced the ball to Kittle again, leaving it high and being tipped into the defender’s hands.

Kittle is running a choice route but can’t shake Bostic over the middle. Garoppolo looks off the safety to Kendrick Bourne, running a dig route, ensuring there isn’t a bracket over Kittle, and comes back to Kittle with a high pass. Kittle leaps and attempts to catch it, batting it up and into the arms of the Collins coming over from his safety spot, who dropped it. The better option would’ve been Bourne as the throwing lane was already open as he looked off the safety and flat defender.

On the interception, it was basically a punt on fourth down, but the decision is baffling, considering it gave the Redskins 11 extra yards on the return.

The play call is a “Sluggo” (slant and go) route to Pettis down the left sideline, really Garoppolo’s only option on the play. Garoppolo doesn’t even see the safety coming over before he throws. The throw is otherwise perfect and would’ve hit Pettis in stride for a touchdown...except for safety Troy Apke coming over from the middle of the field to intercept the pass.

I don’t buy the argument that Garoppolo had trouble throwing deep passes in this weather like that because of the placement of this pass. However, the pass should’ve been more outside to the sideline given the defender placement and placed between Pettis and the sideline. He had a clean pocket and enough time to make that adjustment. At worst, the Redskins get the ball at the 36-yard line if it falls incomplete. Instead, Apke returned the pass 11 extra yards nearly to midfield, giving his team great field position.

After the interception, Garoppolo finished 8-8 for 113 yards and gave his team chances to score, which they did, and he had several scrambles that gave his team first downs. But one thing Garoppolo still needs to work on is his decision making. They haven’t had to rely solely on his arm right now except to make some key passes late in games, which is more than we can say for any other Shanahan quarterback since 2017. I still expect him to get more comfortable as the weeks go on, but some of these issues still need to be cleaned up.

OUTLOOK

The Panthers come into San Francisco fresh off a bye week and a trip to London, sitting at 4-2. The NFL did not flex the game either, so it’ll still be set for Sunday afternoon, with the 49ers wearing their white 1994 throwbacks. Cam Newton has already been ruled out by head coach Ron Rivera, so that means that Kyle Allen will be starting against a defense they’d probably rather have Cam healthy for.

It won’t be easy as the Panthers have some offensive weapons, but the 49ers should still handle their business at home. They have beaten the Panthers once since 2001, a game on the road in the playoffs in 2013, and haven’t beaten them in the regular season since then. To say a lot is riding on this one would be an understatement.