While it seemed like the world was falling around the San Francisco 49ers after a poor showing in Denver, the coaches and players within the locker room knew that they would bounce back. And rebound they did against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night, battling toe-for-toe with AFC’s No. 1 seed from last season.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo seemed to gain confidence with every throw, finishing the night 14-of-20, 188 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 116.3. Despite one poor play, the 49ers’ offensive line did a much better job of protecting their signal-caller, giving him the time to find his receivers downfield.
Wideouts Richie James, Deebo Samuel, and Dante Pettis played well — despite what head coach Kyle Shanahan has to say in the media. They combined for nine catches on 12 targets,
The defensive performance on Saturday wasn’t as impressive, as it is evident that Robert Saleh’s group was missing the pass rush of Dee Ford and Nick Bosa. Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes was carving up the 49ers’ pass defense in the first half, and it seemed like there was no resistance from San Francisco’s defensive group.
While they returned home 3-0, there are still lots of areas to improve on, and there were four things that we learned from Saturday’s showdown.
1. Wideout Richie James is a lock to make the 53-man roster.
Wideouts Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor (despite his injury) are locks to make the roster. Assuming the 49ers choose to add another receiver to that mix, it shouldn’t be free-agent signee Jordan Matthews, but Richie James instead.
The 2018 seventh-round pick played in 13 games last season, hauling in nine catches, but was mostly a kick returner for the 49ers. Along with his speed, it seems like James has taken the next step in his development as a receiver.
Early in the first quarter, James put a double move on a Chiefs defender, giving him the requisite space to catch a Garoppolo pass for a 33-yard gain.
Here’s that Richie James double move. Easy speed. Nice ball by Jimmy G to let him run under it. pic.twitter.com/nuMcSkDQfh— KP (@KP_Show) August 25, 2019
The former rookie went on to catch all four of his targets, totaling 66 yards on the night. Not only did James impress as a pass catcher, but he returned two kicks as well.
James’ role on offense and special teams should give him the nod on the 53-man roster over Matthews — despite their differences in size and experience.
2. Robert Saleh needs to hope corner Jason Verrett stays healthy this year.
Three weeks into the preseason, the 49ers’ defense seems to have the same problem that it did last season — no reliable cornerbacks on the opposite side of corner Richard Sherman. The 49ers’ brain trust brought in corners Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson via free agency, tried to rejuvenate corner Ahkello Witherspoon and drafted corner Tim Harris to provide ample competition.
After three weeks, Verrett’s sidelined with an injury, Harris watched in Kansas City from the sidelines, and Witherspoon has returned to his old ways. While Harris might not develop quickly enough for the 49ers’ timeline this year, he may provide depth at the position in the future.
General manager John Lynch brought in Verrett hoping that the veteran could provide stability at the position immediately. The newly-signed 49er’s old problems have chased him here to his new stop. Verrett needs to stay healthy, so that Sherman can have a productive corner opposite of him.
3. Left tackle Joe Staley isn’t looking like himself through three weeks.
Whenever the 49ers offensive line is spoken of, nobody questions the effectiveness of tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. Between the two, there’s no question of availability on Sundays, and they provide stability to the rest of the shaky group.
At age 34, Staley wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down last season, and the 49ers chose to reward him with a two-year extension worth $27.6M in new money.
However, through three weeks, the veteran Staley isn’t looking like himself. Two weeks ago in Denver, pass rushers Bradley Chubb and Von Miller blew through Staley and pressured Garoppolo during his debut. On Garoppolo’s only interception of the night, he was hurried as Chubb handily beat Staley off the edge.
This past week, Garoppolo was sacked once, and it was a result of former Seahawk pass-rusher Frank Clark beating Staley and dropping the 49ers’ starting quarterback for a seven-yard loss.
With instability across in the interior offensive line, head coach Kyle Shanahan is looking for his bookends, McGlinchey and Staley, to step up. If the veteran Staley can’t improve his level of play, it should start to worry about the 49ers’ offensive staff.
4. Running back Tevin Coleman is a solid addition, but this is running back Matt Breida’s starting job to lose.
With running back Jerick McKinnon still not practicing with his knee injury, the 49ers’ running back core was limited to newly-signed Tevin Coleman and third-year Matt Breida. While Coleman’s been getting the start, I still think this is Breida’s starting job to lose in the regular season.
Against the Chiefs, Breida took seven carries for 44 yards (6.3 YPC), while Coleman took nine carries for 19 yards (2.1 YPC). In years past, one of the knocks against Breida has been his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, but on Saturday the former undrafted free agent beat a Chiefs’ defender down the sideline, catching a Garoppolo pass for a touchdown.
Breida’s other big question marks have been his ability to stay healthy through a 16-game season. Going into game one, Breida should be the starter and playing the lion’s share of snaps, with Coleman spelling him in stretches.